Job seekers watching employment prospects wither and lay-offs mount amid the recession might consider joining the gold rush, and a Northern Ontario school is hoping to educate that next wave of underground workers.

Many investors see gold as a hedge against inflation — when the dollar sheds value and can’t buy as much, people hoard gold. In recent years, the price has hovered under $1,000 US an ounce.

Mining consultant Alan Gorman says base metal prices dropped considerably after the economy collapsed last year. Now, companies are doing more exploration for gold, hoping to revive old mining sites or find new ones in Canada and Africa.

Gorman says companies like Vale Inco, Xstrata and Teck Cominco that primarily produce base metals have either closed mines or made cutbacks over the last nine months. Those that focus on gold, such as Barrick Gold Corp. and Kinross Gold Corp., are “on the upswing.”

“In terms of new employment, I’d say you’ll probably see more happening with the gold companies.”
Someone has to extract the precious metal, and it’s not a matter of simply shaking a pan and plucking out the nuggets.

The Northern Ontario town of Haileybury is home to a mining school that hopes to benefit from a spike in applications as the gold sector enjoys a bull market.

Don Hillier, a professor at the Haileybury School of Mines about three hours northeast of Sudbury, Ont., runs a mining engineering technician program that prepares students for careers ranging from entry-level to management.

Over the course of two years, students complete modules by watching lectures and reading study guides online. Subjects include math, physics and chemistry, as well as technical communication and safety.

“A mine is like a miniature city,” Hillier says, explaining the emphasis on technical coursework. “They can have their own water treatment plant, garages, and some even have their own hydro facilities.”

Mines employ a variety of people, from engineers to pipe fitters to welders, “not just mining people per sé,” Hillier says.

“They constitute only about one per cent of the overall workforce.”

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