Laurentian University Mining Engineering graduate Elizabeth Sweeney’s experience working as an Engineer-in-Training (EIT) with Vale over the last year illustrates the duality to starting a career in the mining industry.
“I have two different work environments,” she says.
“I know that at the end of the EIT program, I will have a wide range of knowledge and I will be prepared for a great career with Vale.” —Elizabeth Sweeney, Ground Control Engineer-in-Training, Vale
And those two environments can be as different as night and day.
At Vale’s Garson Mine near Sudbury, Ont., Elizabeth splits her time between the mine’s office above ground and “going underground” to work within the mine, which produces 2,300 tonnes of ore containing nickel, copper and precious metals daily.
She got her first taste of this contrast in working environments while working as a Summer Student at Vale’s Totten Mine, about 40 km southwest of Sudbury, during the summer of 2011. “After that, I knew Vale was the perfect company for me.”
The following spring, she started in Vale’s EIT program, which allows new engineering graduates to work in many different fields and gain a better understanding of all aspects of mining. Learn more about Vale’s EIT and Geologist-In-Training (GIT) programs.
Each EIT can customize their program and schedule based on their interests, education and previous experience, Elizabeth says.
One of the rotations she has already completed is a four-week Common Core training course at the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT) Underground Centre, which features an operating mine that is used for training purposes.
“It gave me a different perspective and helped me to understand all the hard work that underground workers go through every day,” she says. “This was a great experience for me and I was very happy that Vale gave me this opportunity.”
Keep reading to find out how Elizabeth spends most of her days as a Ground Control EIT at the mine:
Mornings at the mine
Unlike most people, Elizabeth says her favourite part of each day is arriving at work in the morning. She must really “dig” where she works!
She usually starts her mornings above ground in the office, making a cup of coffee before checking the seismic monitoring system – technology that is used in mines around the world to enhance workplace safety.
“It is important to stay updated on the seismic information so I can answer any questions that operations may have about ground conditions,” she explains.
Even slight shifts in the rocks, caused either by seismic activity or mining itself, can create problems underground, so Elizabeth’s colleagues rely on her to monitor the situation, and then report on or investigate any unusual activity.
“The days that I go underground, I attend Operations’ morning meeting so I am informed if any problem areas need to be investigated,” she says.
“It is important to maintain clear communication with all of the workers underground and inform them of the work I am doing.”
Whether she’s working above or below ground, teamwork is crucial in the mining field, she adds.
Lunch ‘n’ laughs
“Lunchtime at Garson is very relaxed,” Elizabeth says, describing the office culture at Vale as friendly and easy-going.
“I spend most lunches at my desk talking to my co-workers and checking my email. Everyone is very sociable which makes for a very enjoyable lunchtime.”
After lunch, Elizabeth gets down to business updating the mine’s ground control layouts with any new information that has become available. “This allows me to have a good understanding of the ground conditions so I can recognize any new problem areas when I go underground,” she explains.
There are also many reports involved in the Ground Control EIT role at Vale, she says, so some of her afternoons are spent completing these reports. One of the most interesting projects she’s worked on so far was completing a feasibility study report on mining the remains of an ore body to obtain the ore below the current levels.
“It was very beneficial for me because this project incorporated all aspects of mining, which greatly enforced my understanding,” Elizabeth says. “I know that at the end of the EIT program, I will have a wide range of knowledge and I will be prepared for a great career with Vale.”
At the end of each day, everyone at the office gathers together for a safety meeting where they review any incidents that have happened at Vale‘s operations over the last 24 hours.
“This helps us maintain a safety-conscious attitude,” Elizabeth says. “We are also given the opportunity to share any safety concerns we may have and discuss our plans for the next work day.”
Engineering, especially at a mine, can be a challenging career path, but Elizabeth says she finds it very rewarding. “I have only been working for a short time, but I know that I have made the right decisions. I could not be more satisfied than I currently am working at Vale as an EIT.”