Nechako region mining students are getting valuable practice on equipment simulators as part of their certification at the College of New Caledonia (CNC). This is helping to turn them out as attractive employees for the North's many mines that are looking to hire.
The simulators which are portable and attach to campus computers give realistic experiences to the students, teaching them equipment operation skills, safety training and instilling confidence in the students.
They also save companies’ valuable time because they don't have to train new employees themselves, says mining instructor Peter Sirfalk.
Without simulator training new employees and companies would be at a disadvantage, he explained,
"You might have to haul people out to the mine site in a remote location and put them on real equipment, which could take a couple of days, plus you have to tie up a $5 million piece of equipment."
One can also train large numbers of people at a time in a high-tech classroom setting. For instance, at an auditorium with an overhead projector, Sirfalk said,
"One hudred and fifty people could take in the basics of how to run a piece of equipment on a simulator, where it would be very difficult to do that on real equipment."
While there are only a dozen students learning on the simulators at Vanderhoof's CNC campus, they get a lot of valuable skills in a supportive environment with people of many ages and skill levels.
"In my instance, the throttle lock was something I wasn't familiar with," said operator, Travis Ellingson.
The throttle lock keeps control of the engine at a constant rpm, saving the operation both fuel consumption and reducing emissions. Some of the bigger gear runs anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000 horse power engines, so this can be a big saving for the company with a lot of well-trained operators.
The mining simulators also help give prospective miners a chance to see if they have a natural aptitude for the work, he noted.
"You can do an aptitude test and lay down basic knowledge," the instructor said, all before the person has had to pay for high levels of training or an employer has had to transport and put them up at company expense.
Practicing on the simulators also gives workers more confidence in their abilities.
"I really enjoy it," says Thomas Lee of the simulator training. And even though he has had lots of experience running equipment at sawmills, he explained, "For the most part they just put you on a piece of equipment and expect you to figure it out."
But that can lead to workplace tragedies and losses for the company as well.
Lee agreed he's seen close calls at work including, "A guy coming around a corner (too fast) with just one wheel on the ground, and the axel, with a full load of 16-foot green lumber on the front," Lee tells Omineca Express, "I thought he was going to go over or plow right into me."
Importantly, simulators give students a chance to try out different maneuvers without getting hurt or destroying expensive gear.
"Safety is a big thing, and with a simulator you are capable of practicing safe maneuvers and you can also see what an unsafe maneuver will do," the instructor, Sirfalk said.
The mining certificate being offered is called Mining 150 and offers 15 weeks of training including five hours a day on the simulators when they are on campus, which is a number of days throughout the course. There are also field trips to local mines where students get to see the equipment working for real, presentations and question and answer sessions.
There's a diverse range of people taking the courses including people who have had careers at other jobs, who sign up as a way of getting skills to enter into a more lucrative career than what they've been doing. And some are recently graduated high school students looking at the quickly expanding mining industry for a life-long career .
"I really like it because it's hands-on," said mature student Myrtle Patrick.
The classes have a very close split of women and men students, and several students over age 40.
Sirfalk, who has worked in mines all over the world notes, "We give a warm welcome to all students and want them to feel this is a place of equal opportunity."