Corona College students (in blue helmets) learning on site with Cabo Atlantic
With the mining industry in Newfoundland and Labrador growing steadily, the demand for trained drillers is now high and finding these workers is harder than it used to be. “In the early days, drillers used to go to any place they could find men gathering, even at a bar, and say, ‘Do you need a job?’” said Kader Omar, vice-president of business development at Corona College. “Those days are no longer here.” Which is why Omar and other staff at the college based in Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland have taken initiative and collaborated with a diamond drilling company.
In 2007-08, the college partnered with Cabo Drilling (Atlantic) Corp. to train students at its sites. Unfortunately, with a faltering economy that made investors nervous, exploration activity shrunk and the program was shelved. But in 2011, the college decided to re-offer the program and saw much greater success. Of the seven students who graduated in 2012, Cabo hired five.
There are other Canadian colleges which offer partnerships with drilling companies, and Corona is looking to expand the opportunities offered to students.
Corona’s goal is to provide companies with skilled workers who, after leaving the classroom, are equipped with the necessary training to work as drillers’ assistants. “The industry really took a full swing back and there’s no slowing down,” Omar said. “When the drillers and people who are experienced need to retire or leave [Newfoundland] for better opportunities, you need new blood to pump into the industry.”
“The school is an advantage to us because we can take the students already trained,” said Melvin Butt, human resources and health and safety supervisor at Cabo. “I know in particular for our last contract we picked up, we just called the school. They did their two-week on-the-job training with us, and we just had to ask the driller about work ethic and attitude and from there we knew who we wanted and who we didn’t.”
The 20-week program, modelled after Ontario’s “Common Core” industry standard, provides students with eight different safety certifications needed in an industry that is becoming increasingly environmentally and safety-aware.
Graduating from this year’s program, Rob Izzard was hired by Cabo in Ontario as a driller’s assistant in Kirkland Lake. The pay and opportunity for future travel are what attracted the 27-year-old to the work, but as a newcomer, he too sees a lack of new, skilled workers. “Most of the miners now have been working for a long time, so they need younger workers to come into the field,” Izzard said. “It’s hard work but if you can handle it, you should jump on it.”
With a population of over 500,000 people and approximately six drilling companies operating in Newfoundland, the competition for new and experienced employees is very high. For Cabo, the partnership with Corona is both crucial and unique; it is currently the only drilling company collaborating with the college. And as long as exploration continues, the demand for drillers will persist. “From my first hand point of view, I think it’s a great partnership and I hope it continues,” Butt remarked. “It’s a good idea to let someone else train your drillers’ helpers; you know they have experience and they know how it all works.”