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.

 

Flavie_Osisko_Mine

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.
 

Flavie_Bracemac

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.

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 No13: Q&A with Betty Ann Heggie

Betty Ann Heggie has spent twenty-six years at the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc where she climbed the corporate ladder to become Senior Vice President and an officer in the company. She was named Canada’s Top Investor Relations Officer by both her clients and her peers.

Betty Ann is now using her retirement years to promote Women’s mentorship, answering the call to share her lessons learned with other women. She has spearheaded The Betty Ann Heggie Womentorship Foundation, which supports organizations and individuals that reflect and promote her teachings about the importance of Gender Physics and the necessity of women supporting women.

Betty Ann was nominated as the 2015 Women in Mining (WIM) Canada Trailblazer award winner. This award, established by WIM Canada in 2013 recognizes women who are risk taker and have helped other woman advance in their careers.

Betty Ann Heggie

Betty Ann Heggie

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

I am from Saskatchewan and I was looking for work around the province. I knew I wanted to have a family and at the time my prospective husband had a small business in the area. Most of the jobs started at an office in the province and when you got promoted, you were transferred to another city. Thus, I looked for employment at a head office in Sask, where I wouldn’t have to move. Since mining is a big part of our economy, Potash was at the top of the list; it presented great opportunities in Saskatchewan. I worked for Potash for 26 years from 1981 to 2007.

2. You are a woman in mining; what has the experience been like for you?

Back in 1993 we tried to buy the German potash company K+S. Our CEO and myself both went to Germany to meet with the company. We had a nice dinner and the following day they had planned a tour of the underground mine for the CEO, and a city tour for myself. The reason behind this is that was believed it to be bad luck for a woman to go underground. It was an old superstition and the company didn’t want to frighten the miners. So there I was, an officer of PotashCorp, and they wanted to take me on a city tour. Our open-minded CEO refused to go underground without me. In the end, neither of us went underground. The industry has changed since then; a lot of women are now working underground and much progress has been made.

I have always been impressed with the mining industry’s emphasis on safety and continue to be impressed with their contentiousness. This safety culture goes beyond the mine site; even it the office, things like standing up on a chair or laying a pair of scissors on the floor aren’t allowed because they are things you would not do onsite. So many great safety practices started at the mine and are now practiced at the head office. These good practices flow over into my every day home life.

3. How did you advance your career to a senior position?

Hard work is a given, but you have to be lucky and have a vision. In my case, I focused on ways to improve the company. That meant that I was continually pushing news ideas forward. Early during my career I had to be persuasive because I had no status and couldn’t dictate. I did a lot of networking and made connections within the company. That is how I influenced change.

You should make sure to be strong enough to present yours ideas convincingly, build a good network of people and most importantly be resilient; when things don’t work out, you can’t crawl up at home, you need to keep going.

4. Were your challenges different than the challenges that men face?

Yes, just this morning I was talking to a woman I mentor and she was explaining that very often her interests and those of the men she works with don’t line up, which makes it difficult to create relationships through socializing. At her workplace, the men all like snowboarding, ice fishing. Because her interests are different it doesn’t give much opportunity to bond.

In my case, I tried to make friends with the wives of the other executives; it gave me an opportunity to socialize with them as couples. But I did specifically take up golf to play in company tournaments!

5. When did you join Women In Mining (WIM)? Why did you feel compelled?

WIM is a relatively new organization that took off after I retired so my involvement has been mentoring some of the women in the organization and speaking at their events. I think it’s fantastic organization; at one of the events where I spoke I was impressed to see an entire ballroom filled with woman who share common interests. It definitely empowers women by bringing them together as they strive to be leaders.

6. Why is it important to have more women in the industry?

From my experience, women deal with risk very differently than men. Men will take the financial bet while woman are more considerate of the stakeholders and the people involved. Women will make sure to not deviate from the ethical path and are committed to respect the commitments made to the employees and the environment. Women provide balance to prevent having success at any cost. They make sure that all the ‘I’s’ get dotted and ‘T’s’ get crossed. They are likely to force more internal discussion before going external, which gives any project a greater chance for success.

7. The issue of including women in mining companies has been discussed for more than a decade. Why has it been such a challenge?

For one thing women haven’t traditionally chosen engineering for a career. Also, whenever you bring in diversity, you have to make allowances and initially the mining industry wasn’t good at making those changes. It has gotten better however! For example, we now have coveralls and toilets specifically designed for women. We can’t expect them to come in and be just like men. They are different and therein lies their value.

There is also a psychological reasoning behind this: people are more likely to hire those that are like them to fill the position that they had. In mining, men were more comfortable giving jobs to other men. Once you break the glass ceiling and create a context for women to fill those positions everything changes. When people haven’t seen a woman working in a mine, they don’t know what to expect and that unknown makes them uncomfortable. Most of our decisions are made from the 85% of our brain that operates beneath the surface in the subconscious. Going back to my experience in Germany, it was an unconscious bias; people didn’t know what to expect but now that women have gone and worked underground, mentalities have changed.

8. Have you had mentors that have helped you? And how important are they?

Yes and I was very lucky. There were no women higher than me at PotashCorp so I turned to men that had a wives or daughters trying to make it in business. I knew they would be sensitized to my situation and empathize. Mentors were very important to me; my decision-making and success was a result of very good advice from my mentors.

9. What are some of the lessons you got out of your career path?

I would say that it is really important to switch between one’s feminine energy and masculine energy. It’s important to maintain one’s natural compassionate feminine energy, which readily builds relationships but also use masculine energy, which is not afraid to take a risk. You can’t just be a leader and get your ideas across without also forming relationships and helping others. You need the attributes of both and I use both these energies with my work relationships as well as my personal relationships.

10. Any advice you would give a young female student considering a career in mining?

I would say to develop and maintain your sense of humour. It is important to have fun at work, to laugh at yourself. Through humour you can find common grounds with people, or break the ice with colleagues. Like the famous saying goes, time spent laughing is time spent with the Gods. It really increases your positive vibes!

Pit Stop No12: The PDAC

If you are in mining, you must have crossed the PDAC at some point. The PDAC stands for Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada; it is the most famous mineral industry convention. It occurs annually at the Metro Toronto Convention centre around the month of March. This four-day congress has an international reputation attracting over 1,000 exhibitors and 20,000 attendees from around the world for networking, deal-making and scientific exchange. It consists of a trade show and a series of technical sessions, short courses as well as social and networking events. The trade-show is the most overwhelming and spectacular part of the PDAC, I think! It is a hub for all junior mining and exploration companies and the world’s biggest investors. Worth mentioning the notorious mining companies’ parties at the Fairmont Royal York hotel every night.

Part of the Trade Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre

Part of the Trade Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre

Aisle of the PDAC with exhibitors from different country like China

Aisle of the PDAC with exhibitors from different countries like China

As a student, the PDAC can seem overwhelming at first but the organization has planned some events exclusively for students. These include guided tours of the trade show, a PDAC survival skills workshop, and a student-industry networking luncheon. It’s important to understand that the PDAC is not a place to search for jobs or coops; it’s a place to learn about the challenges the industry is facing and, more importantly to connect with industry professionals and leaders. Connecting means approaching other people, interacting with them to learn about their work and experience and develop contacts. You can never have too much of those!

Student booth at the PDAC

Student booth at the PDAC

This year was my second time attending the convention and my first time volunteering for the PDAC. Volunteering is an amazing opportunity to meet professionals while learning more on what the PDAC does as an organization (not to mention that volunteers also attend the convention for free!) My role was to attend to the E3 Plus booth. The E3 Plus is a PDAC initiative to provide a framework for responsible exploration. Its purpose is to encourage the exploration companies to improve on their social, environmental and health and safety performance by providing them with online toolkits and guidelines to do so.

Me and another Volunteer at the E3 Plus Booth

Me and another Volunteer at the E3 Plus Booth

For me, attending the PDAC has been a great experience these past two years! I have had the opportunity to attend a technical session on commodities and market outlook where mining mogul Robert Friedland gave his insight on the minerals of the future. One of my favourite moments of the PDAC occurred at the WIM networking reception. During that event the 2015 WIM trailblazer winner was announced and I had the opportunity to meet winner Betty-Ann Heggie.

Robert Friedland giving his Presentation on the Minerals Outlook

Robert Friedland giving his Presentation on Minerals Outlook

2015 Trailblazer award winner Betty-Ann Heggie accompanied by the WIM Canada Board of Directors

2015 Trailblazer Award Winner Betty-Ann Heggie accompanied by the WIM Canada Board of Directors