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Underground training above surface

Jonathon Naylor - The Reminder

August 4,2010

Feds, province invest in high-tech mine simulator.

A high-tech underground simulator will help train the next generation of Flin Flon area miners thanks to a joint investment by the federal and provincial governments.
In Flin Flon Tuesday, Premier Greg Selinger and Lynne Yelich, federal Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, announced the simulator will be part of the Northern Manitoba Mining Academy.
"It's going to be a very, very good investment that we are making," Yelich told a crowd of dignitaries gathered at the future home of the academy near the HBMS Main Gate.
The federal and provincial governments are together spending more than $1.7 million to purchase two electronic simulators - one for Flin Flon and the other for Thompson.
Premier Selinger said the simulators represent the "state-of-the-art technologies" needed to help move the northern mining industry forward.
"The academy and these new mining simulators strengthen the mining sectors as a major resource to strengthen community and industry partnerships and allow northern residents to train close to home for high-wage, high-skilled jobs," he said.
The movable simulator stations come with four interchangeable consoles, allowing them to mimic a variety of real-life situations.
The simulators will teach miners how to operate underground mining equipment, undertake proper safety measures and cope with subterranean emergencies.
Industry observers note that simulator training has been used by the mining industry in Australia and South Africa for over a decade and has proven effective in training new employees within a shorter period of time - and without risking damage to multi-million dollar pieces of equipment.
The mining academy's simulator is envisioned as a means of training workers not only for employment at HBMS, which has been downsizing in recent times, but also at other Northern Manitoba mining operations.
The high-tech investment is reflective of the evolving nature of the mining industry.
"The need for skilled workers and re-skilled workers in the mining industry is critical as mining methods advance with complex, computerized and mechanized machinery utilized in Manitoba's changing environments," said Tom Goodman, senior vice-president of operations for HBMS, a partner in the academy. "This state-of-the-art equipment will assist with the intense and higher level training that is now required."
Doug Lauvstad, executive director of the Northern Manitoba Sector Council, another academy partner, concurred.
"State-of-the-art simulation equipment ensures we can maintain a competitive advantage, now and into the future," said Lauvstad. "This investment in the academy and in the simulators by the federal and provincial governments, is welcomed and will further the mandate of the Northern Sector Council to assist in the development of a world-class mining workforce."
While Flin Flon's simulator will be based at the academy, Thompson's will go directly to Vale, that city's nickel miner. UCN, Northern Manitoba Sector Council, Manitoba Mining Association, HBMS, Vale and the University of Manitoba are partners in the project.
Though the simulators were the focal point Tuesday, dignitaries also took the opportunity to reflect on the broader benefits of the academy itself, which will be operated by UCN.
Mayor Tom Therien said council's support for the academy was "a no-brainer" and thanked all of the partners involved in making the project a reality.
"This is, I hope, just a start and we'll see what happens in the future," he said. "But...I can hardly wait for the first students to walk through the doors of UCN Flin Flon."
Goodman spoke on the historical significance of the property selected for construction, noting it would be within viewing distance of the original Flin Flon mine and sits in the shadow of the decades-old North Main head frame.
"We're very pleased that this location is going to be the location of building an exciting future for our company," he said.
Calling Tuesday a "significant day" for Flin Flon, Dr. Denise Henning, president and vice-chancellor of UCN, said she could not think of a more fitting location for the academy.
"UCN is honoured to be part of this development," she said, adding that the university college is committed to the academy's academic and economic success.
Also on hand for the announcement were provincial Mines Minister Dave Chomiak and Entrepreneurship, Training and Trade Minister Peter Bjornson. They joined other dignitaries in pushing shovels into the soil for a ceremonial sod-turning.
Ralph Thomas, an aboriginal elder, led an opening prayer, partly in Cree, asking for the blessing of the academy and the instructors who will work there.
The simulator announcement builds on a previous investment of $920,000 from the federal government's Economic Action Plan and $950,000 from the Manitoba government towards the academy.
Expected to open in the spring of 2011, the academy will provide northern residents with training to work in the mining industry or upgrade their skills.