Pit Stop No17: Discover Flavie’s mining journey

Flavie Arseneau just completed her mining engineering degree at McGill University. She has agreed to share some of the experiences she has had in mining. Check out my interview with a girl who was born for mining.

1. What enticed you into considering a career in mining?

Back when I was fifteen, I met a McGill Mining Engineering student who was working in a quarry. He told me about the program, the opportunities in the field and how rewarding it was. It sounded like something out of the box and this is what I was looking for. When the time came for me to choose a career, I looked for something that would challenge me and make me scratch my head every day and that brought me to mining!

2. Tell us more about your different Co-op work experiences.

I had my first coop experience at the Osisko mine now known as Canadian Malartic mine in the small township of Malartic. I was hired as an open-pit surveyor and would spend the day surveying blast holes, new excavations, and diamond drill work. It was a great experience as I had the chance to be independent and I felt like an important part of the team. I was lucky to be on the field every day as few students get to experience fieldwork at their first stage.

 

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Flavie surveying the open-pit

 

For my second internship, I worked at Bracemac-McLeod underground mine in Matagami. I was also a surveyor but this time in the underground mine, which was a very different experience from open-pit. I learnt a lot of new aspects of a surveyor’s job and the great importance of it. I was part of a great team as well and I really enjoyed working with the people over there.
 

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Flavie at the underground Bracemac-McLeod mine

 

For my third internship, I went to Raglan mine, which is located in the most northern part of Quebec. It was quite an impressive and complex mine. I had the opportunity to look at different aspects of long term and short planning. I also did a lot of things such as spending time undergrounds with foremen and miners on a day to day production crew. At that time, I understood something important about mining: underground operations are difficult and they rarely goes as planned, we have to be ready to adapt quickly!

For my fourth and final internship, I was based in Timmins and worked for Kidd Creek mine. I was part of the long-term planning team and the experience turned out to one of the best. I learnt so much on planning,ventilation, rock mechanic, reserve estimation, geology and much more. Everybody was open for discussion and never would I find a close door.

3. What skills did you gain from your work experiences that you wouldn’t otherwise have learnt at school?

Technical skills. I’ve learnt a lot on planning, ventilation, rock mechanic, and production when applied on the field. Being on the job also teaches you to work in teams efficiently. As well, I learnt to take decisions and to be sure of them. When you work on the field, you need to be smart, you need to be able to take big decisions, and you need to be present.

4. Were you given more responsibilities as you were gaining more experience?

Yes! I was given a lot of responsibilities and loved it. I believe responsibilities come with will power more than experiences. If people see that you are passionate and smart, they will give you more responsibilities even though you are still new to the field.

5. Were you ever treated differently because you are a woman?

No. I was half expecting to be treated slightly differently because I’m in a male-dominated industry but that never happened and it was a very positive thing.

6. What aspect do you most like about working in mining? And what do you dislike the most?

As bad as it sounds, nothing ever goes as planned in mining. This is a major challenge, which pushes me and keeps me going in mining. You really have to think of smart ways to find a solution to the problem or else you will be in big trouble. And you don’t want that.

What I dislike the most about mining is it farness. Mines are far and family are sometimes torn apart. The last thing I want is to be faced with choosing between my job or my family.

7. Is there a particular moment while working in mining that made you feel in the right industry for you?

I always knew this was the right field for me because I was aware of what mining was before choosing it as a career.

8. Any plans after graduation?

Master’s in rock mechanics at McGill under the supervision of Prof. Hani Mitri. My research will be focusing on de-stress blasting, which is both very interesting and applicable on the field.

9. Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?

I see myself working in a mine as rock mechanic engineer either at a Fly-in-Fly-out operation or on a mine site. I am hoping to be a professional engineer by then and maybe start a family? I’m definitely looking to be challenged every day and to work along side amazing people.

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Pit Stop No16: The Do’s and Don’ts of working on a mine site

If you are a mining student like me and want to get the most of your experience on a mine site, check out the list below of the do’s and the don’ts! I obviously don’t know everything about mining or working on a camp so feel free to comment any suggestions you may have!

The Do’s The Don’ts
1. Just starting your first mine job? Feeling a little anxious or overwhelmed? Do relax! Mines can seem like big scary dark places but I can assure you, they are not! 1. Don’t underestimate the importance of safety on a mine site!
2. The first week is usually paperwork and site visit; do pay attention to lunch places, your supervisor’s office and the toilets (everyone has cravings…) 2. Do not come to work late… just don’t.
3. Always wear ALL of the safety equipment before going onsite! And when I say ALL, I mean like ALL of the safety equipment. 3. Don’t expect things to be smooth or easy… mines are rough and bumpy; get used to it.
4. Do get to know you colleagues; what got them into mining, their career path… It helps to break the first-week-awkward silence. 4. Don’t pretend you know it all… you don’t.
5. Do ask questions, any questions… do it. 5. Don’t wait for work to come to you! Try to ask yourself this question every day: how am I creating value today?
6. Since some mine sites are in a galaxy far far away, I do encourage you to make friends at the office! 6. A special one for female miners: you are no different than a man so don’t expect to be treated differently.
7. Learn!! Learn to cook, to clean, to sleep early (that one’s important) and if you have some extra time … you won’t have extra time. 7. Don’t complain about your job/boss, mining internships are pretty rare these days #downturn
8. Feeling lonely on some afternoons? Time to renew your Netflix subscription! 8. Don’t take days off from your internship especially if it’s 4-month, you want to give the best impression!
9. Do Skype with your friends and family; let them know you are still alive… after all, mines are that dangerous! 9. Don’t rush when handling expensive equipment! If you’re a surveyor like I was, you DON’T want to be remembered as the one who dropped the total station.
10. Get dirty… not that way! I mean go underground or in the pit whenever you get the chance! 10. Don’t expect to have everything right the first time, it is okay to make mistakes… but please do learn!

Pit Stop No15: My First Experience Working in an Underground Mine

The McGill mining program is a coop program, which means that students not only need class credits to graduate but also 12 months of coop work experience. The first two years of my undergraduate studies were particularly hard to land an internship. The mining job market wasn’t at its best and commodity prices were falling. With hard work and the right skill set I finally signed my first contract with the Matagami Mine division of Glencore.

I finished writing my final exams at the end of April and in early May I was already packing my bags for my next adventure. I left the city early on Saturday to arrive 8 hours later in the little northern town of Matagami. It was my first experience ever working in a mine, so I was wasn’t too sure what to expect.

On my first week, I filled in my steel-toed boots, put on my coveralls and headed to the underground. It’s easy to know if mining is meant for you or not: you either love it or hate it. In my case, being underground felt like being in a different world and I loved it! It was fascinating to see how huge the excavations, the trucks, and the stopes were. Even though the mine is in operation since 2013, which is relatively recent (some mines are 100 years old!), it’s already quite deep. It takes about 30 to 40 minutes to get to the deepest face in the mine that is 750 meters deep.

I was hired as an intern in the engineering department to work with the team of surveyors. The team and I would spend the morning surveying up to 7 different faces in the mine. Because of that, I was exposed to all sorts of activities underground. I would encounter the Jumbo man drilling in preparation for a blast, the bolters that are bolting a newly excavated face of the mine to make it safe to work under. One thing that is very useful when underground is to spend time communicating with the miners. Showing interest in their work and asking questions was beneficial for me to learn about the challenges they face and to understand that an engineering design should be feasible to execute safely.

After the survey is done, we would use the afternoon to develop AutoCAD plans based on the data gathered underground. These plans are used by engineers, technicians, and supervisors and are essential for the next round of operations.

My stage was a great learning experience. As an engineering student, you mostly learn the technical aspects and everything is very theoretical. Seeing how a mine actually works gives a lot of meaning to the theory learned in the classroom. It is also crucial, as engineers,  to understand how the operations are carried out in the underground and what challenges the miners face.

The most important thing in any internship experience is to have fun and enjoy the work!

And the most important thing in any internship experience is to have fun and learn, learn, learn!

Pit Stop No14: Holstein Wong’s mining journey

I studied a Bachelor of Engineering in Materials Science and Engineering (Honours) at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. I also travelled to Swansea University, Wales for a semester on international exchange. I’m now a Graduate Processing Engineer for BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance in the Bowen Basin, Central Queensland.

1. What originally appealed to you about working in mining?

At the beginning of my undergraduate studies, I was more interested in engineering materials for product development. As I learnt more about minerals processing, I really wanted to start my career as upstream as possible, so mining was a perfect fit.

2. What are your main duties as a process engineer?

As a Graduate Processing Engineer, my role is to support operations to optimise the recovery of coal and minimise waste of reagents from our minesite operations. I work in the Coal Handling and Preparation Plant (CHPP) where we upgrade the run-of-mine material and reduce the ash content to meet the specifications of our international customers. My day-to-day duties include analysing and benchmarking production performance and quality, monitoring any abnormal changes in the processing equipment, updating information centres to keep everyone on track for our monthly targets, streamlining work instructions and much more. Various other responsibilities include trialling equipment and processing initiatives to optimise the recovery of product and reagents, to produce more tonnes for less unit cost.

3. How does a typical day at your job go?

A typical day sees me arrive on site at 6:30 am for a handover from the nightshift crew. We get an overview of the day’s plan and take note of any hazards. After reviewing production metrics I’ll put on my safety gear and 2-way radio and go for a walk in the plant; no need for a gym membership when there are so many stairs! The plant is a complex five-storey entity that runs 24/7 so my schedule depends on whether issues arise in the plant throughout the day. The rest of the time may involve meetings, writing up business cases and getting approval for trials and modifications, following up with maintenance, and generally answering questions from both operations and management.

4. What is your favourite part of the work you do?

My favourite part of the work I do is that I can see direct improvements that result from our team’s efforts. Every day I learn something that makes me appreciate the knowledge and experience of the people around me. It’s humbling to be part of a team that coordinates and achieves such complex work around the clock; coal is trucked from all over our minesite that is 80 km (50 miles) long, and we produce between 1100-1400 tonnes of coal per hour (my car weighs just over 1 tonne!).

I also like that my role isn’t a desk job. Working in the physically demanding environment of the processing plant was a huge change from university, but it’s great that we have to be flexible and responsive. It’s a fast-paced setting where I’m often learning about something for the first time while trying to troubleshoot it. This exposure to operations has greatly improved my reactive thinking and time-management.

5. What’s the most challenging part of your job?

The scale of operations means that any small change can have a large impact on productivity and quality. It’s a challenge to keep in mind all the interrelated variables and potential consequences while striving to fine-tune and improve our processes. Everyone brings their own set of skills and expertise to the mix, and we work well together to keep producing tonnes safely and efficiently.

Living and working remotely certainly has its challenges too, we only have one supermarket and because we are so far inland, I miss eating fresh seafood! But living with only the essentials is the best opportunity to learn about your own strengths and develop professional and interpersonal skills that will be utilised all throughout your career journey.

6. Have you ever had a bad experience?

I haven’t had any particularly bad experiences in terms of being a female in the mining industry, but it’s disappointing to see the lack of women in senior roles. When I try to raise this topic of discussion, most of my colleagues are dismissive of it being a “real” problem. People talk about “the best person for the job”, which is a sentiment I completely agree with, however, are we really picking “the best person” if the selection process favours people who fit the current image of what a miner or an engineer looks like?

7. What kind of volunteering do you do and how does it benefit you?

I’ve volunteered with Rotaract since I started university and I’m now the PR & Marketing Director for Rotaract Australia. Our monthly Skype meetings and yearly strategy weekends keep me connected with the outside community. RA provides the framework and resources for Rotaractors (18-30 year olds in more than 70 clubs around Australia) to contribute to their local communities to bring about social change, along with providing professional development to members. Over the past year I’ve worked on national communication strategies to lift the engagement of individual members and raise the brand awareness of Rotaract to existing and potential benefactors, to improve the impact of our non-profit organisation. The benefits of volunteering are being able to give back to the community as a good global citizen and sharing ideas with other motivated individuals.

I’m also a strong advocate for more female representation in STEM industries. In my two voluntary appointments as Head of Media at International Women in Mining Community and Committee Member at Women in Mining and Resources Queensland, I firmly believe that we can change the male-dominated nature of the mining industry within my professional lifetime. STEM in general has many female students but this does not translate to significant female representation in industry, especially in senior roles. My current roles with these non-profit community organisations focus on improving the retention and advancement of existing female trainees and employees, but I hope to move towards building and advising on more robust policies for more diversity in the workplace on an international level. This is not just out of self-interest, but to give more viable options for girls today and in the future, because engineering is a fantastic area that should be accessible to all who show an interest.

8. Is there anything you think students and recent grads should know about starting a career in mining?

Mining can be a rewarding career choice but the reality is that a lot more sacrifice is involved compared to other industries. Most like you will be posted to a remote minesite that is hours from anywhere, so it helps to have supportive friends and family who are okay with Skype. It’s a volatile industry where entire departments can be cut if commodity prices take a dive, so you have to be prepared to move around constantly. Having said that, the best way of learning is to be a doer – you’ll get out of your experiences what you put in. Working in the mining profession is so much more than just developing your technical skills, so if you see something interesting, ask about how you can be involved.