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《A Career in the Mining Industry》__ Michael Sung

《A Career in the Mining Industry》

[About the Author

MICHAEL SUNG was born in China, educated in Hong Kong and emigrated to Canada in 1966, a year after graduation from Hong Kong Technical College, Department of Building, Surveying and Structural Engineering (1962-65). He became a civil engineer in Canada and served the engineering/construction industry for 48 years before retiring from SNC-Lavalin Inc. Industrial Division as Senior Project Manager. His career covered civil engineering designs, heavy construction and project management on international industrial projects. His footprints covered North and South Americas, Greenland, West Africa, Middle-East, South-East Asia and China. Through his work, he had witnessed human lives in both rich and poor countries. These experiences galvanized his faith that God had a plan for him to do good work for human kind as part of his calling.]

Many people have asked me the question: How did you end up in mining? My answer to them is: I fell in love with it.

The image of mining actually started when I was a student at the Department of Building, Surveying and Structural Engineering, Hong Kong Technical College. One of the class lecturers told us that there used to be an old tungsten (wolframite) mine located in the New Territories, operated by the Japanese. I kept that in the back of my mind and focused on working towards the Structural Engineering stream.

In 1964, the signing of the Columbia River Treaty between the United States and Canada, to build hydro-electric dams and flood control facilities in the Columbia River Basin, resulted in a shortage of engineers in the Province of British Columbia. Canada invited applicants from Hong Kong to come to Canada with the promise of Canadian citizenship and professional registration. I was lucky enough to be chosen and landed in Vancouver in April 1966. Within 10 days, I got a job with a local Engineering Consultant as a junior Civil Engineering Designer. My first encounter with mining was in the spring of 1967, when I was assigned to work as a field engineer on the construction of the concentrator at the Granduc Copper Mine in Stewart, BC. As I flew up the Nass Valley, I was completely overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape I saw. It was so different from working in an urban office. While working on site, curiosity caught my attention as to how the minerals were discovered, mined and processed into concentrates for shipping to market. I recorded what I had learned for my future reference, especially on the construction of the infrastructures.

My second encounter with mining was a few years later, when I switched from engineering to construction (with the intention to learn to improve my engineering skills from the constructability aspects). I went to work for a major Industrial General Contractor that specialized in heavy construction works. During that period, I worked on the expansion of the asbestos mine in Cassiar, BC, a green-field silver mine near Houston, BC, re-opened the molybdenum mine in Kitsault, BC, and managed a few shutdowns in between.

In 1988, when the Provincial Government changed the rules of engagement in the construction industry and forced me to shut down my own construction company in Vancouver under Bill 19, I was badly hurt both in pride and spirit of entrepreneurship. I decided to return to the practicing of engineering. I reached out to an old friend, a Senior Vice President with the leading Canadian Engineering Construction Company operating on an international basis. He loved to have me on board with my qualifications and experiences, and appointed me as a Senior Project Manager in Mining and Metallurgy within their Industrial Division. My first project was to manage a green-field gold mine development in Elko, Nevada, followed by upgrading an existing gold mine in Eureka, Nevada, USA. From then on, I travelled from country to country where the projects were located. My footprints covered landscapes from the old ice-field in Greenland to the hot Arabian Desert; from the Arctic Circle in Nunavut to the equatorial mountains in West Africa; from the highland in Peru to the swampy lowland in Indonesia, and several other countries in between. I worked on surface mines as well as underground mines 5,000 feet deep below the surface of the earth. Each project taught me different skill sets that helped me with my career growth. The projects were never easy and the risks were very high. Besides the normal risks that existed in every project, I had to learn to tackle “unique risks” such as: political, financial, cultural, language, natural, human resources, logistics, etc. etc., which were common, and yet different, in all international projects. Life was hard and difficult, but the rewards for the accomplishments were most satisfying. I saw some of the most beautiful and unique landscapes on earth. I came face to face with some exotic wildlife I had never known, because we infringed their natural habitats. For 25 years, I learned to lead in inter-cultural environments that required patience and understanding, and to project strong visions to make the team believe in me and follow me, as we journeyed on in a single team, to meet the challenges and to achieve project objectives. I fell in love with my work and would not have it any other way in my career path.

I firmly believe that a career in mining is worthy of the efforts. As I look back, mining projects were always the most complex by their nature. Their scopes were huge, their locations were always remote and the weather was always harsh. They involved teams in scores of multi-professional disciplines and specialists to come together to make them work. Strong planning skills by lead engineers and managers were definitely required to make the project a success, simply because the challenges never ended until the project was commissioned and met all the Business Objectives set forth by the Developer.

Canada is a resource-rich country. Mining companies here manage more than 60% of the world’s mining operations. Opportunities are, therefore, limitless and open to willing hands.

I hope my little story will encourage young engineers and students to choose mining as an area in which to grow their career. Mining is not a dirty business as some would have us perceive. We do include stringent environmental protections in all projects, both in design and in execution. Working on mining projects allows you to be directly in touch with Mother Nature and to experience a wealth of knowledge that no desktop design will ever teach you. The challenges to engineering skills are always there and the successful achievements of project objectives are something to be proud of.

I credit my beloved mother school for teaching me solid basic engineering/construction skills and logical thinking, thus allowing me to fulfill my calling through further studies with a lifelong learning goal and positive attitude towards choosing a career path.

I wish to thank POLYUWCA for accepting me as a member and offer me a place in the family. On this special anniversary issue, I would like to take the opportunity to say to all Board Members and volunteers, who worked tirelessly organizing activities and events for us to enjoy in the past 20 years: Thank you and congratulations for a job well done!

(This article was first published in The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (Western Canada) Association, A Commemorative Publication, compiled by an editorial group of the association to mark the 20th anniversary of the Association (1996-2016). Slightly edited, it is reprinted here with the author’s permission. “About the Author” was written by the writer himself. – F.Y. Yu (‘61))

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