As part of our Careers in Mining series, this post looks at the job of Mining Engineer with Erik Beck of Mining Plus Pty Ltd.
Erik grew up in Rochester, NY. While studying for his B.Sc in Mining Engineering at Queen's University his summer jobs included being a laborer in a rock quarry, a technical assistant at a copper, lead and zinc concentrate trading firm in Connecticut, and a technical assistant at an engineering consulting firm in Toronto. After graduation he started as a Mine Engineer and Project Engineer for a Turkish mining company to rebuild the abandoned Tespihdere mine. After this he worked on the closure of the Kemess mine in Northern BC before taking a position as a Mining Consultant at Mining Plus Canada where he currently works. There he plans and designs a variety of mines both underground and open pit and has had the opportunity to travel to Australia. When not at work he enjoys fishing, hunting, SUP boarding, back country skiing, kite boarding, motorcycle riding and enjoying life on his floating house in the Fraser River.
What is your main role as Mining Engineer?
My main role is to organize and plan how a company will take valuable metals and minerals out of the ground either using open pit or underground methods. The company will give us a budget on how much money we can spend and then we decide what kind of trucks, shovels and support equipment will be needed to do it. Then we have to plan where will be the best place to start digging based on what geological engineers tell us and how good or bad the ground is from geo-technical engineers. Once we start digging we have to design what electrical systems will be need to run lights, water pumps, mobile equipment and fans (underground) as well as ground support to make sure rocks don't fall on anyone in open pits and underground. We then have to schedule where equipment will be to make sure there is enough ore going to the processing plant to keep metallurgical engineers happy. When the mine is near completion, we have to help the environmental department plan the reclamation of the waste dumps that will be created from many years of mining.
What came first – a desire to go into mining, or the desire to become an Engineer?
My desire was first to become an engineer as my dad was a Chemical Engineer and I wanted to be like him. Then after I finished my general first year of engineering at Queen's University, I talked to my older brother who was also a Mining Engineer and he told me it would be very easy to get jobs that pay really well and will take me to interesting parts of the world. I took my brothers advice to try mining and never looked back.
Is your job mostly office based or do you spend more time at mine/exploration sites?
As an engineer, my time has been spent in the office and on sites. Even when I worked at remote mine sites, a lot of work needs to be completed on a computer to make sure the design process is going as planned and constantly updating information as it changes. Some of my office work includes 3D drawings, creating spreadsheets in Excel and writing reports in Word. To understand how the changes are affecting the computer plans, it is important to get out into the field to see how projects are going and to get an understanding of the things that can be right, wrong or unsafe. This included driving around in pickup trucks to see where a shovel is in an open pit or going down shafts/ramps in an underground mine to inspect how development is progressing in a tunnel. We would also go to exploration drill rigs to see what kind of rock we should be expecting.
Has your job allowed you to travel? If so, where to?
The main reason why I chose mining was because it allowed me to travel and have someone else pay for it. After University, I was offered to work at mines in Chile, New Zealand and Turkey. As I had not heard much about Turkey I chose to work in an underground mine there for 2.5 years. It was a great experience to learn about a new culture and continue to advance my career. Once I was finished in Turkey I worked in a remote site in Northern British Columbia on a Fly in Fly out rotation. I would live at the mine for 4 days and then get 3 days off to do what I wanted. My recent job as a mining consultant allowed me to work at an underground mine in the desert of Western Australia.
If you are away from home for extended periods, what makes you the type of person that can do this successfully?
I find my independence and passion for exploring new places allows me to be away from home for extended periods of time successfully. My interest to be social and work on a team allows me to makes friends on-site and lessen the feeling of missing home.
What does your average day look like?
When I am on-site, my average day would start at 6am and go until 6pm. This would be getting to the office, having a daily safety meeting, going over current projects with the foreman, superintendents, managers and other technical service departments. Then it would be going out to the mine to see if there have been any major changes to the plan, working on computer aided drawing programs (CAD) to update life of mine designs. Using short term plans we create blast designs and order the explosives necessary to break the rock. Some days we would have First Aid and Mines Rescue training to keep our skills fresh and finally the day would end with social events like badminton, darts, pool, floor hockey, the gym, poker or watching sporting events. Throw in meals, breaks and sleep then do it all over again.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
The highlight of my career was working in Turkey not knowing the language and knowing little about what the country was like. The project was working with a team to reconstruct an old abandoned mine and produce valuable concentrate (processed ore) once again. We had to pump out the water that had collected in the mine, resurvey the old workings, rebuild the infrastructure with shafts and order new equipment and install new electrical systems. We also had to build a new access road, find new areas to mine with exploration drilling, rebuild the camp facilities, overhaul the old processing plant and construct a new tailings area to store the waste.
What do you love most about your job?
Always going to new places around the world, being in nature and meeting new and interesting people who all have a story to tell.
There must be aspects of the job which you don’t enjoy so much. What are they?
Mining is a dangerous environment and there are accidents that happen even when we do everything to prevent them. It is very important to be extremely cautious when on a mine site as everything is just bigger than things we do and use in everyday life. Electricity is more powerful, mobile equipment is massive, human respiration is impossible underground without powerful ventilation systems, ground support must be installed properly so rocks won't fall and there are extremely explosive materials on-site.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow a similar career path?
Have an open mind to problem solving. Be a good well rounded student. Get involved in your community as you will have to deal with many different communities once you get into mining. Remember Mining Engineering is a mix of Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Computer Engineering. You want to be able to relate to all of them. For your post secondary education, you can get a bachelors degree at University, find a trade that is involved in mining to get your apprenticeship or go to a technology school to become a technician. Each path will be suited to what you find interesting and when you are ready with the right experience and qualifications, you can take the appropriate steps to get your Professional Engineering license.
For more interviews with mining professionals in different jobs, have a look at our main Careers in Mining post.
Header photo: aerial seeding at Highland Valley Copper. Image courtesy of Teck Resources Ltd.