Dec '10/Jan '11

Canada brings mine training to Mongolia

Program will develop mining professionals for Oyu Tolgoi and other projects

By Peter Caulfield

Mongolian Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Dashdorj Zorig tries out the jumbo simulator at Oyu Tolgoi Mine | Photo courtesy of Ivanhoe Mines Ltd.

The Oyu Tolgoi property in southern Mongolia contains approximately 81 billion pounds of copper and 46 million ounces of gold in Measured, Indicated and Inferred resources. This represents one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper-gold projects; the current resources are expected to support open pit and underground mining for approximately 60 years. It could also contend for the world’s largest human resources challenge.

In October 2009, Vancouver-based Ivanhoe Mines and its partner Rio Tinto signed a long-term investment agreement with the government of Mongolia for the construction and operation of Oyu Tolgoi. Among the terms is an agreement that at least 90 per cent of the employees at Oyu Tolgoi be Mongolian citizens.

During the construction and expansion phases, at least 60 per cent of the employees must be Mongolian nationals; they need to comprise 75 per cent of the workforce engaged in mining and mining-related work. In addition, within five years, at least half of the engineers must be Mongolian, with an increase to at least 70 per cent within 10 years.

Ramping up

To meet this goal, virtual campuses accessible through Oyu Tolgoi’s human resources department and the Mongolian University of Science and Technology’s (MUST) mining department were up and running in October. The first students have already enrolled in Canadian-developed online mining courses, designed to provide applied training and skills development to professionals in Mongolia’s rapidly growing mining industry.

The curriculum has two parts: 160 hours of online courses that will be provided by EduMine, and nine days of short courses that will be delivered by about 20 University of British Columbia (UBC) professors at MUST’s campus in Ulan Bator. Simon Houlding, vice-president of professional development for EduMine’s parent, InfoMine, says the online courses, which cover both theory and practice, were developed by industry specialists and include such topics as bench-phase design for open pit mining, cyanide management in mining, and mine health and safety. Professor Bern Klein, head of UBC’s Institute of Mining Engineering, says students must successfully complete the online course work before moving on to the short courses.

The UBC-MUST-EduMine program has five different streams: surface mining, underground mining, mineral processing, mining environment and communities, and mine management and economics. Klein says the course will prepare mining professionals for the open pit and block caving underground bulk mining techniques that will be undertaken at Oyu Tolgoi, which is currently scheduled to go into operation in 2013.

Graduates of the program will receive a Certificate in Mining Studies from UBC. “We expect to put several hundred engineers through the certificate program in about five years,” says Klein. “Ivanhoe wants to hire engineers for Oyu Tolgoi and get them trained quickly.”

Virtual campuses

The program is a joint offering of the UBC’s Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering, Vancouver-based EduMine and MUST, which is a multidisciplinary centre of education, training and scientific research, with campuses in Ulan Bator, Mongolia’s capital, and Erdenet, a recently built mining community. “EduMine has set up virtual campuses at MUST and at the Oyu Tolgoi mine site,” Klein explains. “After the students have paid their fees for the program, EduMine is notified and it emails the students their password. They can then log into the EduMine website, which will give them access to all the online courses.”

“One of the challenges we face is the fact that the courses will be delivered in English,” Klein adds. “But we’re optimistic that we’ll ultimately be successful.” All of the course material in the program will be delivered in English, except for the online Mining 101, which has been translated into Mongolian and which introduces English-language mining terminology.

Klein explains that although older Mongolians speak Russian as a second language, the younger ones are learning English. “Mongolians want to reach out to the world, and they realize they need to speak English in order to do it,” he says. “They are eager to learn, and the program will introduce them to state-of-the-art mining skills the country needs to meet the human resources demands of its rapidly growing and modern mining industry.”

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