As part of our Careers in Mining series, this post looks at the job of Project Manager with Spence Gilchrist of JDS Energy and Mining Inc.
Prior to accepting a position at JDS, Spence was an integral part for the start-up of a residential construction company. He worked as a tradesman and assisted with the business development to ensure longstanding success. He has a degree in Business Management from the University of Alaska - Anchorage where he attended with financial aid from an athletic scholarship. Over the past seven years he has advanced from working as a tradesman to his current Project Management position by successfully completing numerous challenging projects throughout Western & Eastern Canada, Alaska, Mexico and Colombia. He believes his success can be attributed to his attention to detail, resiliency and versatility.
What is your main role as Project Manager?
The Project Manager’s role can vary in detail depending on the project scope he or she is responsible for. Within each of these projects lies a team of individuals you (or the Project Manager) have compiled in order to ensure successful project completion. My role as a Project Manager is to ensure that my team of professionals have the ability and tools in order to perform their duties which, in turn, once are completed successfully and consolidated to one end goal, give the overall project success. As mentioned above, a Project Manager is responsible for all aspects of a project which includes but is not limited to; health, safety, environment, financials, procurement / contracts, scheduling, manpower planning, engineering, production, operations, construction, reporting, client liaising and overall site management.
What came first - a desire to go into mining, or the desire to become a Project Manager?
I strongly believe that my desire to further my career at a young age prompted the desire to become a Project Manager. The desire to pursue a mining career came before the aspiration of leading a team as Project Manager but becoming a Project Manager was the most apparent next step into furthering my career. I had been working alongside other professionals within JDS Energy & Mining Inc. on many different types of projects who helped guide and mentor me on the methods and processes of the mining industry. Without this type of mentorship and guidance from the personnel within JDS, the progression to reach where I am today would not have occurred so quickly.
Is your job mostly office based or do you spend more time at mine/exploration sites?
My job affords me the opportunity to travel to various projects around North and South America. Although I am currently responsible for multiple projects at any given time, it is my responsibility as a Project Manager to prioritize projects that are in need of assistance and dedicate larger portions of time there. As I enjoy the travelling aspect of my job, travelling to the projects I am working on allows me the opportunity to focus all my attention on that project.
Has your job allowed you to travel? If so, where to?
Yes, my position as well as the industry I am in has provided me many great opportunities to travel while working. During my career to date, I have worked at and travelled to Minto Landing Yukon Territories, Hatchers Pass and Skagway Alaska USA, Kelowna BC Canada, Grey River Newfoundland Canada, Concepcion del Oro Zacatecas Mexico, California Santander Colombia, Williams Lake British Columbia Canada and am currently stationed in Campo Morado Guerrero Mexico. I have also been able to travel to multiple other locations to assess project needs and prepare client proposals outlining how JDS could provide best value solution for their projects.
If you are away from home for extended periods, what makes you the type of person that can do this successfully?
I am away from home for extended periods of time but the propensity of being that type of person lies strongly in your home situation. It is sometimes easier for single people to separate themselves from what they have at home for longer periods of time (or sometimes not) but in my case I am married with three children. Although technology (Skype, email, etc.) has brought the world closer together, the strength and understanding of my family provides me the opportunity to focus on my project thus allowing the time away to pass even quicker.
What does your average day look like?
Depending on the day of the week, an average day can be fairly regimented. Between client meetings, head office conference calls, safety and production meetings, reporting and planning I need to be able to allow time to make a presence at the actual work front or construction site. Currently, an average day includes (but is not limited to); opening the office (always be the first one there), review and plan for the day based on night shifts report, go to the construction site for the daily safety meeting (toolbox talk), meet with the contractor superintendent to review and reaffirm the plan for the day, address any issues that arise and provide solutions, return to the office to address emails and correspondence (financials, procurement, safety, production, etc.), production and planning meetings, financial and procurement meetings, reporting, site progress inspections and liaising with the client and the clients team.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
The highlight of my career so far would be the career itself. I have been very lucky to be on a mining industry team that does not solely focus on one task, scope or location. That means that each project I have been on has been completely different in scope or end goal. This provides me the opportunity to see many different aspects of the mining industry and help me to better understand how all departments or areas within a mining company can be affected by one another. I am a mining consultant (Project Manager) that helps our clients identify issues or problems and provide ‘out of the box’ solutions and this to me is a highlight within itself.
What do you love most about your job?
What I love most about my job is the fact it is not only different from project to project but that on a daily basis there are multiple challenges that arise (although most mitigated) that need immediate and safe solutions in order to not affect production or operations. My job is challenging but in the same breath, that is what keeps my interest so focused on success and completion. I also enjoy the fact that my job affords me to travel but I consider that to be a bonus.
There must be aspects of the job which you don't enjoy so much. What are they?
Although I have painted a pretty positive picture in the other questions answers, I would have to say that one aspect of my job which I don’t enjoy is bureaucracy. This is kind of a generalized term and is also different from client to client but certain types of bureaucracy within an organization can make my job more difficult than it needs to be. And because I am a consultant in all circumstances, controlling bureaucracy is not always an option. One option that I have found successful is being able to mitigate the situation before you allow it to present itself as a problem. As an ironic twist, that is also a function of performing my duties as a Project Manager successfully.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow a similar career path?
The advice I would have for anyone looking to follow the same career path would be to work hard at what you do and pay attention to the details. The details could be directly related to what your responsibilities are or they could be related to something that you might not be responsible for now but could affect you in the long run. Much of the mining industry is centered on details and by controlling and understanding said details, you will control and understand the overall situation and outcome. Although the comment above is focusing on the mining industry, working hard and controlling and understanding the details are key in any successful Project Management position regardless of the industry.
For more interviews with mining professionals in different jobs, have a look at our main Careers in Mining post.