New tech program focuses on mining

New tech program focuses on mining

A new industrial training program now offered at Mesabi Range Community & Technical College’s Eveleth campus is aimed at meeting changing mining industry needs, and filling mining job vacancies expected to occur soon.

Industrial technology with mining emphasis is now being offered this fall as a two-year course for an associate of applied sciences degree in a pilot program that possibly may be expanded to other two-year colleges in the area.

”Mining companies expressed a need for broad-based, technically trained workers,’’ explained Jeff Gregg, program director of research and marketing at MRC&TC.

The class offers basic training in welding, mechanical, electrical, millwright and industrial and automation technology, as well as practical engineering, robotics, process controls, programmable controls, computer control and integration and instrumentation. A general education component offering life skills in working relationships, problem solving, communications and math is included.

The program can be a broad foundation for more detailed engineering coursework in a four-year degree in heavy industry, such as paper or pulp, electrical or other settings, he added.

Current faculty will be teaching the program at the Eveleth campus, which is fully eligible for financial aid. The program is approved at the college, and should get final Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system approval soon.

There are places for 40 students, and so far about half are filled, seven signing up after an open house Wednesday, he said.

Another big reason for more career paths into mining: ”All our Baby Boomers are getting ready to hit the road to retire,’’ Gregg said.

Which is why Mike Kern, who works in human resources at Hibbing Taconite, is looking 3-5 years out at projections that a third to half the workforce at HibTac will be eligible to retire. Production started at the taconite plant in 1976, and the ”vast majority’’ have 30 years of service in now. Half of upcoming vacancies will be in operating equipment such as shovels, trucks, or tractors or plant equipment, he added.

A worker with 30 years of experience retiring today carries so much working knowledge. But more is needed. ”More computer skills are required than 30 years ago,’’ Kern said, and youths have grown up with computers, and are naturals at using them.

More broad skills such as basic electricity will be useful, as well as safety education; but the program is not a journeyman approach ”” a program grad will not be a qualified electrician, he added.

The program is partly inspired by Dr. Bill Rigby of Northern Michigan University, who sat down and listened to officials at the Upper Peninsula Empire-Tilden taconite mines managed by Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. describe what they needed in future workers. Rigby came and talked to community college and mine officials in Northeastern Minnesota and helped tailor coursework to the needs of the area.

”We’ll be looking at these grads as having a skills set that sets them apart from the other applications,’’ Kern said of Cliffs-managed mines on the Range, at Northshore, HibTac and United Taconite.

Scott Blood, human resources representative at Northshore Mining, said while the Babbitt-Silver Bay plant’s workforce isn’t as old as others, agreed that the type of employee being considered is changing, with two-year degrees required these days.

”You have to have multi-technical people,’’ he said.

Range mining companies, unions and the two-year colleges also sat down and helped work up the specific curriculum for the pilot program: Welding, rigging, blueprints, electrical, mobile mining, maintenance, drive components, process controls, pumps, fabrication and repair, and hydraulics and troubleshooting.

”It doesn’t make them a millwright but it does give them a good foundation,’’ Blood said.

For high school grads looking at their future and where to place it, Gregg suggested, ”In the next few years I think the outlook’s positive for young people looking to be on the Range.’’


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