Sept/Oct 2009

Practising what we preach

CIM treats the current downturn as an opportunity to do its own bidding and hire students

By M. Kerawala

From left to right: Neil Desai, Ali Haider Malhi, Stephen David, Lei Jin, Vadim Taskaev and Ian Durocher

CIM has often made the case for offering summer jobs to mining engineering students. By and large, the industry has responded to this call admirably. As a result, in addition to gaining rich real-world experience, students have been able to defray much of the cost of their education. This remained true for years, until the economic crisis threw a wrench in many mining companies’ works.

Faced with low commodity prices, constrained credit and sluggish cash flows, many companies have struggled. Unfortunately, this also curbed their capacity to offer summer jobs and scholarships.

Ferri Hassani, Webster Professor of mining engineering at McGill University, has been observing the situation closely. “Most universities are facing problems in placing students in summer jobs,” he observes. “We promised students co-op opportunities and jobs. Now, suddenly, this has become difficult.” Fearing student disillusionment and dropout, Hassani approached several industry bodies to “keep these students in jobs.”

CIM steps up

Among Hassani’s first ports of call was CIM. His timing could not have been better, as the Institute had also been monitoring the problem. “We started thinking about this late in 2008,” recalls Jean Vavrek, CIM’s executive director. “We had indications from industry that the economic downturn would make it difficult to provide students with work terms and summer jobs. This was further emphasized by exchanges around the table at the Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC).” Hassani’s request brought matters to a head.

Vavrek subsequently got the OK from the CIM Council to sanction funds to hire students over this summer. “Council supported the idea, as long as it fit with CIM’s long-term strategy,” he explains. Vavrek had no trouble squaring the decision with CIM’s strategy. “CIM has always supported students in many ways,” he says. “Giving them summer jobs seemed like a natural extension. By working with us, students get to learn more about the industry while helping us with work we need to get done anyway. So why not hire students and help them get industry-relevant work?” Vavrek recalls thinking. Thus, in late June, CIM hired six students, five from McGill University’s mining engineering program and one from Dawson College.

A totally awesome summer job

For CIM, the students’ assistance was timely. Many individually small but collectively significant tasks had been pending for a while. There were databases to be built, documents to be scanned, stories to be researched and contacts to be collated. Consequently, the students were thrown in at the deep end. To their credit, they not only coped with, but also enjoyed, their work.

McGill student Stephen David help CIM Magazine researched potential stories. “My work increased my understanding of current industry issues, such as the potash boom in Saskatchewan and new technologies in the coal and oil sands sectors,” he reports. David also appreciated the bird’s-eye-view that CIM provides. “I have gained a bigger understanding of the industry as a whole and I have a better understanding of the importance of associations like CIM,” he says.

David’s classmate, Neil Desai, also works with the CIM Magazine staff. “I helped the media team conjure up news on the mining industry in Canada. I also created and managed a pictorial database,” he says. Desai appreciated the opportunity for learning. “While researching various subjects, I learned a great deal about the industry. Each task gave me an understanding of the mining world that could not be gained in classrooms.” Desai also feels he has developed important career-relevant skills. “I have learned to gather ideas and express them in meetings. Research and development is an important aspect that I learned,” he says.

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