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SEM mining programs expands after successful first year

SMITHERS Northwest Community College's (NWCC) School of Exploration & Mining (SEM) is unveiling major and exciting changes to its most popular mining program this summer. Expansion is in the works for the Workforce Exploration Skills Training (WEST) program, says Regina Saimoto, NWCC Smithers Campus Principal. WEST is a 7-week bush camp training program based outside Smithers with hands-on training of employable skills for careers in exploration, mining and other resource industries. It's provided at no cost for eligible participants, with funding provided by the Province of British Columbia through the Canada/British Columbia Labour Market Agreement. WEST project administrator Elizabeth Zweck said the program will expand from two offerings in 2011 to three in 2012, thanks to a tremendous success rate. NWCCs School of Exploration & Mining offered the WEST program for the first time last summer and it was a great success84 per cent of graduates available for follow-up either found employment or returned to school, said Zweck. Based on student and industry feedback, we've tweaked the program to make it even more relevant to what's in demand in the field. The additional WEST offering this summer will mean more opportunities for BC residents to access training and enter the workforce. Course additions include a week of simulated practical work experience, and during the last of the three sessions, a Forestry Assistant stream. There are many exciting career opportunities in the resource sectors, particularly in mining and forestry, and we need more training programs like WEST to ensure that B.C. can build and sustain a skilled labour force to meet the continually growing demand for workers, said Pat Bell, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation. Government is committed to creating and protecting jobs for British Columbians through the BC Jobs Plan, and supporting the training system to create and deliver training programs that help us meet the demand for skilled workers in all corners of our province. Congratulations to Northwest Community College on the success of the WEST program. Graduates need to be in good shape to work long days in the field. During the week-long work practicum, students experience exactly the kinds of conditions they will encounter in the industry, with hands-on training at an SEM field site laying out grids, line clearing, soil sampling and practising wilderness survival. The Forestry Assistant component is a pilot program in which students will learn the practical skills necessary for timber cruising and silviculture surveys. WESTs curriculum is already based on what industry currently requires and demands in new hires, but this is constantly changing depending on current projects in the area, added Zweck. These changes will ensure students are certified and ready to work as soon as they graduate. Student feedback in 2011 was overwhelmingly positive. WEST graduates called the program "life altering" and marvelled at their career prospects, especially in contrast to their job opportunities before enrolling in WEST. Cory Sampson, 23, successfully completed the program in August 2011 and within a couple of weeks had secured a job with Selkirk Metals, based on the skills he learned in the WEST training. It gave me a huge advantage when looking for work, said Sampson, who was hired as a core technician and reports that he needed very little job site training as he already knew how to run the saw safely and prepare sample bags. SEM has a reputation of graduating skilled, industry-ready graduates, says Ann Ball, of Galore Creek Mining Corporation. "Northwest Community College's School of Exploration & Mining provides a hands-on training experience that accurately portrays the camp lifestyle and camaraderie that exists only in a camp working situation," said Ball, who adds SEM incorporates cultural teachings from local Elders that serves graduates well when working with First Nations and in their territories. "With input from highly-qualified instructors on specific aspects of the mining industry, SEM students have the ability to literally complete the course one day, and be on a job site the following day with the knowledge and confidence to do a good job, these students are already highly sought after in the workforce as they have the basic knowledge in several areas of mining and exploration expertise. This summer, WEST will be offered May 1 to June 19, June 28 to Aug. 16 and Aug. 29 to Oct. 17, 2012. For more information about WEST and other SEM programs, go to sem.nwcc.bc.ca. Provincial and federal employment forecasts show the mining industry and its support activities will grow by 3.5 per cent a year with 12,600 new job openings in the sector between 2007 and 2017. In partnership with Smithers Exploration Group and the Province of BC, SEM develops industry-related courses and programs, and offers training in various areas of mining and exploration. Since its inception in 2004, the school has graduated more than 850 students, and 83 percent of grads have either found work or returned to school. Through workforce training for the exploration, mining and natural resource industries, Northwest Community Colleges School of Exploration & Mining seeks to build capacity and engagement in communities involved with minerals exploration and other resource development.

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