10 C
August 14, 2022
Mining Africa News
Featured Featured Mining

Women in mining. Mercury celebrates Saskatchewan Mining Week – SaskToday.ca

Sign In
ESTEVAN – Anyone who's spent more than a couple of months in the Estevan area knows that getting a job at the mines is almost like drawing a winning ticket. While work might be hard at times, it's interesting, pays well and comes with a lot of opportunities and valued benefits.
Every year throughout most of its almost 119-year history, the Mercury has been sharing stories of people dedicating their lives to coal mining. Yet hardly any of those stories were told by women.
Even though the industry has been changing lately and female representation has been growing over the past years, coal mining still remains a male-dominated industry, and women working at the mines are rare. However, those women who had the skills and guts to step into this world are happy with the decision most of them made a long time ago. 
This year the Mercury spoke to four women working different jobs for Westmoreland Mining Holdings LLC's Estevan Mine.
Christina Eagles, ops/production supervisor II, 25 years in mining
Christina Eagles, who currently works as an operations/production supervisor II, has been with the mines for a quarter century now. She started in 1997 when she was just 19 years old.
"I was in university for a year, and it just wasn't really cut out for me. So, I was taking a year off and I ended up in the oil patch, inspecting drill pipes for about four months. And my dad's friend worked at the mines, and he said they were hiring, why not try to get on out there. And I was like, they're not going to hire me.
“But then I said, 'Okay, worst happens is they don't hire me.' So I went out there, and I got hired on the spot. It was awesome," Eagles recalled the beginning of her times at the mine.
"I was the first woman actually to run equipment at that mine. So walking in with 100 employees, that were males was definitely a little intimidating."
She started as a dozer operator, then switched to the scraper and then back to the dozer. She also worked in the service bay dragline oiling and got to operate the dragline here and there. She took a break in 2008 when she had a daughter, and upon her return, she took a temporary supervisory position, which later turned into full-time.
In 2011, Eagles moved into a training supervisor position, and after many years in that role, she is currently going into operations/production supervisor II.
"I was in operations. Maintenance, too. I never really got involved in the plant too much. I liked equipment. I like operating equipment. That's something I really miss now that I'm not on equipment, I miss it a lot. But the supervision, there's so many benefits to that too, working with people. And there is a lot of good people out there. So I enjoy that. I enjoy problem solving. And it's never the same," Eagles said.
Learning the needed skills for new jobs wasn't always easy, but the challenges only made her push harder. She noticed that a lot has changed since she first started.
"To learn how to operate equipment, coming from no equipment experience whatsoever, only a Class 5, to learning on dozer was very difficult. I got to the point where I was even told that I didn't belong there [by a co-worker]. But it drove me even further to say, 'You know what, I can do this.' And I did it and I think I did pretty good. I had to prove myself and it was difficult being a female.” Sometimes it feels like you can't make a mistake because it seems that you're looked upon a little bit quicker than if someone else maybe made a mistake. And it feels like you sometimes have to over-excel just to prove yourself [to some].
"But I don't feel like I need to do that anymore. There's more women in the environment now and some are doing so amazing," Eagles shared.
She said she's never regretted her decision to apply for work at the mines, as the industry and the employer have been good to her. 
"The wages are amazing. The benefits are amazing. Honestly, it's a great job. The mining industry definitely looks after you. I feel like I've always been protected there. And the people are really good to work with. We've been through many different companies, but I feel like we're always looked after. I just feel safe there," Eagles said.
She also encouraged other women to leave their fears behind and go for it if it's something they might be interested in doing.
"They would never regret it. Even if it's just an opportunity to try it. It's a direction I never thought I'd ever go. But if you try it, you like it. It's unique, and you're always learning something. So even if you don't go into it for the rest of your life, I think the opportunity is great," Eagles said.
Erin Fraser, grader operator, 15 years in mining
Erin Fraser, who currently works as a grader operator, joined the mine about 15 years ago and her path to the industry ran through a farming background.
"I've been a farm girl all my life. I always enjoyed running farm equipment and then I obtained my 1A driver's licence through hauling grain and driving semis, so when I applied to work here I was definitely qualified. And this was the first job I ended up with that had something like full benefits I've never had before. And I've been here 15 years now," Fraser shared.
While running farm and mine equipment was similar to a point, the mine site as a whole was new and different for her. Fraser also had a safety background, and the mine gave her many opportunities to get involved with that. She's been a part of the occupational health and safety committee for years, a shift safety rep. and she was a part of the mine rescue team at one point.
Fraser has also tried several different jobs. She was on a coal haul truck for about four years, and for another four she ran a scraper before she ended up with a grader.
And while she was in the female minority, she said she never felt bad because of that.
"From day one, I felt very welcomed. Especially on the part of getting involved in the safety committee, there were a number of men that I worked with that were involved in the safety committee and they wanted me involved because of my previous background. So, I've always found it very welcoming that way. And there's never been more than six to eight women in our workforce of over 300," Fraser said.
The mine also gave her all she was looking for from a job.
"I've always liked operating equipment, that keeps my mind busy. I don't mind working alone as you're alone in your equipment all day. And I've always had a little bit of a mechanical sense too," Fraser said.
Besides, the wages, benefits and opportunities the mine provides are hard to outbid. For Fraser, the opportunity to learn new skills and bid on different jobs was always a big advantage, and there are opportunities for apprenticeships for trades as well.
Even though there are still not very many women in the industry, Fraser sees more and more females joining the field, and she hopes that this trend will continue.
"In terms of encouraging women to work this type of industry, if you ever hear people talk about wage inequality, this is an industry where women can make a much better wage. And you're kept equal. And it is a unionized workplace, so everyone's kept equal," Fraser said.
Jessica Klarholm, dozer operator, MRT captain, 10 years in mining
Dozer operator and current mine rescue team captain Jessica Klarholm has been with the mine for about 10 years now, and she said that the industry gives "everything you would look for in a job".
She had a background in operating machinery and the qualifications the employer was looking for, so she applied for the job, went through an interview and was hired.
"It was actually quite quick and painless," Klarholm recalled, adding that she indeed had some doubts at the time since the equipment she ran before was much smaller.
"It's a little intimidating when you walk out and you're not even as tall as the tire on your machine. So I thought, how will I be able to do this? And I guess I did because I'm still here."
She said that working in the male-dominated industry has never been an issue for her.
"The question I get the most is what it's like working with all the men. And to be honest, there are way more awesome men than not. It's really a nonissue," Klarholm said.
Yet, being a female in mining has its challenges and takes more consideration in certain aspects. For example, when Klarholm was carrying a baby, climbing into equipment became way more difficult. Trying to accommodate her, the employer allowed her to move to a dozer operator position that was going to be the safest for her if something should ever happen.
"They were super understanding that way," Klarholm said.
She added that meshing home life with a shift work schedule at the mine is the most challenging aspect, as being a parent poses extra challenges for a woman. But challenging doesn't mean that it's impossible.
Klarholm has been an equipment operator for 10 years, working various machines before she switched to running a dozer. And that flexibility is something she likes about the job.
"Even if you're in one bid position, you generally get to cross-train on other machines. And then you'll know if you like it, and you can bid on it. There's definitely a lot of diversity in that way," Klarholm said.
Running big equipment and working as a part of a team makes the work rewarding.
"I like people that I work with. Specifically, when on a dozer if you work at a dragline, you have your dragline operator and oiler and then the dozer, so it's really a three-man team. And it's very rewarding to problem-solve when you can get the job done, making those machines operate efficiently," Klarholm said.
She's also been with the MRT for nine years now, another valued experience as the skills mine rescuers get trained for are the skills she wanted to have in her daily life.
"I wanted to know how to handle an emergency. And then it turned into a personal favourite, it's like a hobby, but more than a hobby. You either have it or you don't, you like it or you don't. I quite enjoy it. And it's super challenging in lots of ways," said Klarholm, who is now in her first year as a captain.
There have been a couple of other women on the team, Klarholm said. She added that being a woman on MRT has its aspects.
"It's different … Obviously, I'm the odd man out in that way, but the respect that goes around, it's equal if I was a man or a female, it's just it feels different for me to try and be that commanding captain. We work together well, it's fine. It's just different," Klarholm explained.
She added that being union-based helps a lot when it comes to unbalanced representation, as the union stands with employees no matter what gender they are.
And while work at the mines requires quite a bit from the candidates, Klarholm believes women can succeed in it as much as men.
"The best way to succeed is really just to do your job and do it well. And it doesn't matter if your man or woman in that case," Klarholm said.
Ivanna Vasylkiv, power engineer, plant operator, one year in mining
Ivanna Vasylkiv is one of the recent hires. She joined Westmoreland Mining Holdings LLC's Estevan Mine in October 2021, and she said getting a job with the mines was her long-time goal and dream.
"It was very exciting for me since I always wanted to work at a place like this. There is an interesting process that we do out here. I believe they don't have [other similar] plants in Canada, only in the U.S. … So I'm very pleased to have this opportunity to work here," Vasylkiv said.
She graduated with a degree in science and technology from the Lviv Polytechnic National University in Ukraine before she moved to Canada, where she attended Sask. Polytechnic in Saskatoon to receive a diploma in power engineering. She also gained some relevant experience before she applied for the job at the mines. And with all the requirements met, she didn't have any problems getting into the industry.
The power engineer or plant operator position includes two types of work – a field operator and a panel operator, and Vasylkiv said both are interesting experiences for her.
"For me working in the field is hands-on, where I get to do things, see how things work. But working the panel is basically starting everything remotely and working with the Delta V Program for power engineers is a great experience," Vasylkiv said, adding that the job allows for constant learning and growth.
She added that the processes and the products they make are also something that makes her job interesting.
"In the field, we make activated carbon. There is a market for it. Companies buy activated carbon to make other products out of it, including cosmetics, for example, or toothpaste. Activated carbon is made at the plant where I work, but we also have a char plant here at Bienfait mine," Vasylkiv said.
She had nothing but a good experience at the mines, and the people that work there, men and women, are what make a big difference.
"I appreciate people I work with. They have a lot of experience, and I can learn from them. And they've been very welcoming. So I've really enjoyed it," Vasylkiv said.
"I only have had a good experience. I work both with men and women. And it's not a different experience or anything, it's a good experience overall because everyone has a nice personality. And at the end of the day, it comes to everyone being a team and helping each other."
She added that she appreciates the changes in the world of trades and the opportunities those changes give to women.
"There's way more women going in this kind of spheres lately, nowadays compared to the past. And I think it's a good thing [for women] to know they have this choice and they are being accepted. And there is no difference made if you're male or female. Everyone is [equal], and we just have to be safe at the end of the day and complete our tasks, be part of a team and do our job," Vasylkiv said.
© 2022 SaskToday.ca


Related posts

Awareness programme conducted in adopted village of Gargaon College – Sentinelassam – The Sentinel Assam


Doosan Industrial Vehicles (DIV) Now Part of Doosan Bobcat


Biden pulls 3 offshore oil lease sales, curbing new drilling this year – The Washington Post


Leave a Comment