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When you think of mining, you probably picture headlamps, coal, and men with pickaxes. With advancements in technology and a diversifying workforce, however, the mining industry of today is much different from the past.

Although women currently represent 14 to 16 percent of the industry, and fill mostly administrative roles, opportunities for women in mining are growing.

"Over the next ten years we're estimating that about 112,000 people are going to be needed in the mining industry," says Melanie Sturk, director of Attraction, Retention, and Transition with the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR). "Women can work in any position in the mining industry, and there are actually over 120 different occupations in the sector."

Employment opportunities range from administrative, technical, or operational roles, to finance, human resources, or executive positions. Not only are there many opportunities, but the number of women in the sector is rising as well.

We're seeing more and more women join GoldCorp and joining the mining industry in general, in everything from truck drivers to trades roles to engineering to geology," says Jenine Ellefson, director of Talent and Recruiting at GoldCorp, a senior gold producer with headquarters in Vancouver, BC.

To enter the industry, the education and training needed depends on the type of job you're looking for, but in general, grade 12 education is required. Students should also consider intern positions to expose them to the industry.

"The mining industry sees work experience as incredibly important," says Sturk. "Not only that, but joining professional associations like the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM) and Women in Mining (WIM). Also, MiHR has a virtual mine mentor program that can connect students with workers in the field before they graduate—all of these things are important on a resumé."

Trista Dobratz, a recent graduate from Northern College in Porcupine (Timmins), began working in the Underground Department at the Dome Mine for GoldCorp Porcupine Gold Mines (PGM) as a student in 2009.
 "I loved my job from day one," says Dobratz. "I found the environment so intriguing and I was constantly learning something new."

Changing perspectives on women in mining, says Dobratz, is one of the greatest benefits to working in the field. "The compliments I receive from my coworkers and management are reassurance that it's possible to change the stereotype that mining is just for men," Dobratz cautions, however, that working at the operational level may not be for everyone.

"In production and development mining, you have to be physically fit," says Dobratz. "The job is very physically demanding and requires a certain amount of strength."

But if you're a critical thinker, want to make a difference in the community around you, and enjoy travelling, you might be suited for a career in mining.

"The mining industry is a global industry, and [GoldCorp has] 10 mine sites that are located all across the Americas," says Ellefson. "So there are lots of diverse opportunities, and also the opportunity to travel to different locations as part of training."

Once inside the industry, there are a number of training opportunities available.

"We're very supportive of on-going education development," says Ellefson. "You can get a lot of on-the-job training, as well as in-house training, for a broad range of activities and then of course we have people wanting to continue their education, so we always support that as well."

Going forward, emphasis will continue to be placed on attracting more women to the industry as job opportunities increasingly become available.

"It's not like mining of the past where you needed to be swinging a pickaxe all day," says Sturk. "People may have thought traditionally that women may not be a good fit for the sector, but things have changed and there's absolutely no reason why women couldn't take on any role in the industry."

So if you're considering a career in mining, use the resources you have at your disposal. Sign up for MiHR's virtual mine mentor program, join an organization, or apply for a student position. After all, in such a diverse industry, the possibilities are endless.

Photo: EunikaSopotnicka/Thinkstock