Dunn and his colleagues are preparing to undertake an ambitious recruitment campaign to attract students and post doctoral fellows to Laurentian University.
“There are people with mining engineering degrees and work experience in Toronto who are driving taxis,” said Dunn. “Eighty per cent of immigrants in Canada with undergraduate degrees are working in jobs that have nothing to do with their degrees because they’re not recognized.”
Chandra Nagulapolly, a Masters student with an undergraduate degree in mining engineering and nine years of work experience in India is cited as an example of the talent the University is attracting.
“These people arrive in Toronto with high hopes, but their ideals disappear after two years of unsuccessfully trying to find a job. So we’re already acting as a finishing school. What I’m suggesting is something much broader in scope.”
A possible scenario could see an employee freed up for 10 hours per week to assist with a research project in return for a contribution to the individual’s salary by the research organization. It’s a win-win proposition, said Dunn. An employee able to work towards an academic goal will likely be grateful for the opportunity and easier to retain. He or she will also bring an employer additional expertise and, if the employer is a consulting firm, it may be able to charge more for the employee’s time.
MIRARCO will also leverage its growing contacts in China, which have come about as a result of the Sudbury-based research organization’s success in selling virtual reality technology to several Chinese mining schools.
One research initiative already under way is a three-year, $10 million Planning and Rapid Integrated Mine Optimization (PRIMO) project. Led by Dunn, the project will be a co-operative effort involving MIRARCO, Laurentian’s Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation, Australia’s Amira International and other research partners.
PRIMO will aim to adapt and integrate a series of existing software modules into a single planning and scheduling software framework to assist mining engineers in optimizing mine design and scheduling.
Optimization for an underground mine is a complex task involving “the collection of exploration information, figuring out whether it is a mine or not, then designing it in an optimal fashion, scheduling, it and planning it right through to closure,” explained Dunn.
Lean departments and heavy workloads are preventing mining engineers from taking the time to come up with an optimum solution. On top of that, mining engineers “with less experience are getting into very important roles a lot quicker than used to be the case,” said Dunn.
“In my day, you had to work your way up and it took a number of years. Now, we’re finding people with one year of experience who are actually designing mines”
Without all of the tools in place and the data in the right format, developing an optimum mine plan is very difficult, especially if there is an experience issue, said Dunn.
Mining companies, including CVRD Inco, and Rio Tinto have committed to funding of US $120,000 per year, and several software suppliers have come on board to advise and assist the research team and leverage the results for inclusion in their own software products.