The mining industry has reached another fork in the road during 2012. The industry will now transition from scaling up great quantities of production capacity to optimizing the new projects they have recently brought online, while maintaining existing projects. As prices for metals soften, managers will turn their attention again to costs and profit margins.
Labor is one of those line items on the budget that continues to increase. It’s also a complex consideration for most mines. Most mine managers can justify more money for quality work. Many mines outsource a great deal of work to professional mining contractors, who guarantee performance at a price. These miners either relocate or commute from other regions and return home when the “job” is done. Employing people from the surrounding communities to build a mine rather than work a job instills a sense of pride. Oftentimes, however, mines do not have the time, ability and patience to recruit and train new miners.
That is one of the more interesting aspects for this month’s cover story (See New Afton mine, p. 52). Engineers specializing in underground hard rock mining will review the article with great interest. But, the real success story is how a group of 40 or 50 miners worked together to construct a new mine in a region with no major underground mines. British Columbia has a rich mining history and there are a few major mines near Kamloops, but nothing like what they had planned. Kamloops is a far cry from Sudbury.
The managers at this operation knew what they had to do. They hired a few key people that understood the mining technique: block cave mining. They used contractors to assist them in getting the mine started. They invested in a training program at a local community college. At a critical point along the mine’s developmental path, they pulled some of the best miners away from the operation to train new recruits. It placed a strain on the operation, but they knew it was something that had to be done. They also relied on vendors to not only supply the best equipment, but to help train the new miners on how to use it properly.
Just as important, New Gold had invested in a new mill for the site. While new recruits could grasp the mine plan and operating an LHD or a jumbo drill, chemistry, sampling and statistics is a whole different ball game. The mine used the same approach. It invested in training and relied on the vendors to assist. When the mill moved into production mode, they had a team of new technicians overseeing all of the processes.
Listening to the engineering team, walking with the mine manager underground, and touring the concentrator with the mill manager, they swelled with pride as they described the accomplishments. They used all of the tools at their disposal: experience, technology and training. They relied on colleagues. At first, the road was rocky. Now that small group of 40 miners has grown to more than 500 in four short years. One generation transferred a skill set to another and the surrounding community benefits in many ways.
Human resources are in high demand in the mining business and it is more than just a line item on a budget. The people are what make this business great. When professionals, such as yourself, commit the time and resources to transfer the skills to others, the payoffs are much greater than those measured on the balance sheet.