Nick Parcher, EIT
Thunder Bay, Ontario
When Nick Parcher visited a class of elementary school students in Toronto during National Engineering Month, he had a unique way of explaining to them what it is that engineers do.
“Our job is to keep people safe,” the 23-year-old mining engineer-in-training explained to the students.
Visiting with the students in the school’s gymnasium, he told the students to look up at the ceiling.
“How do you know that ceiling isn’t going to fall?” he asked.
“Because an engineer calculated how much strength the roof need to have to hold itself up. And they looked up average rainfall and made sure it was going to drain. And they looked up the largest snowfall probably in the last 100 years, and calculated cumulative snow, and figured out how much each square foot would weigh and how much snow the roof would need to hold.
“Everything is engineering in some capacity. Someone has to think, ‘how can this hurt someone, and how can we make sure that it won’t?”
It’s this consideration of safety that is front and center for Nick when he’s on the job at Lac des Iles Palladium Mine, located northwest of Thunder Bay, ON.
“Every blueprint that we put out at the mine, someone’s children are depending on us to make sure their parent comes home,” he explains. “People’s health and safety are on the line. That’s the importance of what engineers do.”
Small company, big responsibility
A recent graduate of Queen’s University with a Bachelor of Applied Science in engineering, Nick started working at the Lac des Iles mine as a summer student before being hired full-time upon graduation.
Now, as an engineer-in-training, he works directly under the senior mine engineer. Working for a small company, Nick does a little bit of everything, filling in wherever he’s needed.
“The reason I took this job is that every single day, I do something different,” he says. “I have three hours a day that go towards database work and calculating numbers, and after that it’s pretty much up in the air.
“It’s interesting, everything changes every day. It’s a different job every time I go in.”
In addition to work on the database—which he himself built as a summer student two years ago—Nick does some drilling logistics and scheduling; he does some work on ground control prints and design under the supervision of the ground control engineer; he is currently being trained on how to do surveying; he liaises with contractors and submits purchase requisitions for equipment; and last year, he helped put together the mine’s budget.
This range of tasks and responsibilities is one of the aspects that Nick enjoys most about the job.
“Between the exposure and the responsibility, in any small company you’re expected to step up and earn your spot on the team because there aren’t a lot of spots. And any decision you make can have a large impact—you actually have the ability to make a difference.”
“And,” he says he with a laugh, “in mining, we have the big toys. We’ve got machines that are bigger than most other places.”
Located in a remote location about 90 km north of Thunder Bay, Lac des Iles is a fly-in mine site. Nick works in two week cycles—he spends 14 days at the mine, and then 14 days at home in Mississauga before heading back to the mine.
When he’s at the mine, he puts in 12 hour days and lives amongst his colleagues.
“I go to work, I’m in the middle of nowhere with no cell service, and I’m in a camp that’s similar to residences at school,” he describes. “And I just live with these people. My boss is within 20 feet of me, 12 hours out of the day.”
While he admits that this remote lifestyle can wear on him after a while, Nick’s quick to point out that the benefits of the job far outweigh the disadvantages.
“Usually once in a cycle you’ll wake up and wonder what you’re doing here. But then you get to work and you chat with the people, you crack a joke with your colleagues, and you remember that that’s why you do this.”
On top of this camaraderie, Nick also points out that with a career in mining, he hopes to make a difference in society as well.
“Mining affects a lot of Indigenous communities across Canada. As an Indigenous engineer, something that I’m looking to move towards in the future is getting into the social aspect of mining. There’s a lot of things changing—the climate, the law—and the mining industry has the ability to change a lot of lives in positive ways.
“If people start planning with sustainability and the interests of people in mind, I think there’s a lot of potential.”
“Engineers take dreams and we make them reality. There’s always the ability to change things to help people in the future.”
–Nick Parcher, EIT
Mining engineers extract some of the world’s most valuable resources from the earth.
The work of mining engineers spans the process of mineral extraction, from the preliminary surveying of deposits and the assessment of their economic and environmental feasibility for mining; to the determination of the most safe and efficient means of mining; to the planning and design of the mine itself and of the mining equipment and machinery; to the supervision and management of the mine business operations and staff.
Mining engineers perform some or all of the following duties:
- Conduct preliminary surveys and studies of ore, mineral or coal deposits to assess the economic and environmental feasibility of potential mining operations
- Determine the appropriate means of safely and efficiently mining deposits
- Determine and advise on appropriate drilling and blasting methods for mining, construction or demolition
- Design shafts, ventilation systems, mine services, haulage systems and supporting structures
- Design, develop and implement computer applications such as for mine design, mine modelling, mapping or for monitoring mine conditions
- Plan and design or select mining equipment and machinery and mineral treatment machinery and equipment in collaboration with other engineering specialists
- Plan, organize and supervise the development of mines and mine structures and the operation and maintenance of mines
- Prepare operations and project estimates, schedules and reports
- Implement and co-ordinate mine safety programs
- Supervise and co-ordinate the work of technicians, technologists, survey personnel, and other engineers and scientists.
British Columbia, Ontario and Saskatchewan have the highest concentration of mining engineers across Canada. The number of new entrants in these provinces is not adequate to meet total requirements for mining engineers. The excess demand, particularly in British Columbia and Ontario, reflects a number of major mining projects scheduled for construction.
- A bachelor’s degree in mining engineering or in a related engineering discipline, preferably from an accredited program, is required.
- A master’s degree or doctorate in a related engineering discipline may be required.
- Licensing by a provincial or territorial association of professional engineers is required to approve engineering drawings and reports and to practise as a Professional Engineer.
- Engineers are eligible for licensure following graduation from an accredited educational program, and after three or four years of supervised work experience in engineering and passing a professional practice examination.