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Help from someone who knows the drill

In university, your courses cover the theory and ideas behind the field you hope to enter. But for students who want to work in the mining industry, these classes are somewhat removed from practical applications in the workforce. Let's face it: the classroom is not the same as trekking through the wilderness to collect rock samples, contributing on site at a mine, or even working out of an office.

So what can really prepare you for entering such a different situation? Talking with people on the front lines definitely helps. And that's what the Explore for More Virtual MineMentor Program, initiated by the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) in 2008, aims to address. Through MineMentor, students, recent grads, and anyone seriously considering working in Canada's mining industry partnered with an experienced professional in the field.

Blake Schreiner, who received his diploma in Chemical Technology in 2003, is now in his fourth and final year of attaining his Geological Sciences degree at University of Saskatchewan. Here's someone who fully utilized the MineMentor program. Now on his third mentor, he says he's looking forward to continuing with the program. Each mentor brings new experiences, new messages, and new people to connect with.

With his various mentors, Schreiner discussed anything you can think of that would be relevant to the workforce: work-life balance, possible career paths, various companies (i.e. potential employers) and what they have to offer, the importance of time management, and learning to prioritize. 

Each mentor has gone over my r├®sum├® and suggested edits, and this has been very valuable. Specifically, seeing the various preferred styles, and what each (mentor) would be looking for when they receive your r├®sum├®, said Schreiner.

With his mentors, he also discussed attitude, working with colleagues, email etiquette, and going beyond your comfort zone to make the most of opportunities. The mentorship teaches you things you can't find in books, articles, or online, because it's based on peoples' actual experiences. It's a two-way street. It's a personal feel.

Ryan Posnikoff, a mechanical engineer at BHP Billiton, was Schreiner's second mentor. He sees the benefits from another perspective. For employers, getting involved as a mentor is a great way to share your experiences and help bolster our industry's attraction efforts. It is a great way to be plugged into the new talent that is coming out of university. We need to cultivate those rising stars.

A mentorship starts as mentees entering the program view profiles of available mentors online. They then submit their top three choices. Courtnay Hughes, the MineMentor program co-ordinator, is in charge of pairing up each mentor and mentee. We do our best to make the fit work for both parties, since a good fit is obviously important to the success of each relationship, she explained.

MiHR initiated the MineMentor program to address the workforce shortage in the mining industry, and it just so happened to work out that virtual mentorship is something that's easy for people to use and doesn't take too much time. Posnikoff says he and Schreiner spoke about once a month, but sometimes every week, depending on Schreiner's school work.

Communication mostly occurs by phone, email, instant chat, or Skype, although some mentees and mentors do meet up in person if located in the same area. As Hughes points out, it would be difficult for a mentee going to school in a place like Toronto or Vancouver to connect with a mentor who is doing the job in a remote destination. This platform really removes the geographical barrier.

Schreiner will work as geologist in training upon graduation in April, 2012. Now, Schreiner says he feels more well-rounded, and prepared for his job search. While learning some hard skills that will help him in the mining industry, he says his mentors have really helped him develop his soft skills. And the time will come to pass on the torch. I will definitely become a mentor, he said. I have to pass along what I know. I feel like I have a duty now.

Learn more about the MineMentor program.