Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk gets a hands-on demonstration of a haul-truck simulator during a visit to the College of the Rockies on Wednesday

Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk gets a hands-on demonstration of a haul-truck simulator during a visit to the College of the Rockies on Wednesday

Minister, MLA take the wheel of new college truck simulators

B.C.'s brand new Minister of Advanced Education got a look at a brand new program at the College of the Rockies on Wednesday, Oct. 16.

B.C.’s brand new Minister of Advanced Education got a look at a brand new program at the College of the Rockies on Wednesday, Oct. 16.

Amrik Virk,  the Liberal MLA for Surrey-Tynehead got a hands-on demonstration of a haul-truck simulator during a visit to COTR in the company of Kootenay East MLA and Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett. Bennett also took a turn behind the wheel of the simulator, which trains students in the handling of the massive trucks in use at mines in the Elk Valley and elsewhere.

The college began the four-week program in August with the first intake of students. The third session is underway this month.

“We expect thousands of jobs in the mining sector to open up over the next  few years — particularly in the Kootenays — and we need to ensure we are training students in the right region with the right skills,” Virk said.

The college bought four stationary haul-truck simulators earlier this year — two for the Cranbrook campus, two for the Fernie campus, and one mobile simulator. The machines were designed by Australian company Immersive Technologies.

Instructor Darren Hood told Virk and Bennett that the program made hiring and the training process much easier for mining companies, and added a degree of certainty as well. If someone spends the time and money to go through the program, Hood said, they are more likely to be in it for the long term. Companies are tired of spending three weeks training personnel and having them quit soon after, he added.

“With over 4,000 employees working at the five coal mines here and many  of them approaching retirement, the opportunities for my constituents to  find well-paying work with Teck Coal are excellent,” Bennett said. “The only hitch  is that you need skills. This truck simulator is a terrific way to  provide skills for a job that is in demand.”

A 2012 report by the Mining Industry Human Resources Council, in  conjunction with the Mining Association of BC, showed that heavy- equipment operators and truck drivers will be the top two mining sector  in-demand occupations in the next 10 years. Of the  11,330 workers needed in the B.C. mining industry, 6,370 will be needed in the Kootenays.

Virk also took a moment to praise the College of the Rockies for its reputation, being “consistently rated one, two and three in a whole host of categories”.

“It’s an example of the quality of education not just here in Cranbrook but in British Columbia,” Virk said.

Funding to help purchase the simulators came to more than $2.8 million. Funding sources included $580,000 from the province, $560,000 from the Columbia Basin Trust, and more than $1.7 million through Western Economic  Diversification.