Kamloops’ long history of international education is resulting in new business opportunities abroad.
The latest is a collaboration between two former Thompson Rivers University staff members, who are helping to improve trade skills in Mongolia.
“It’s not a very big step,” said Ralph Finch, TRU’s former dean of trades and technology, who retired in 2010 and formed a consulting firm.
Finch worked with Ivan Somlai, a former senior official in TRU World in the early 2000s on a number of international education projects. Somlai returned to private consulting in 2006, continuing to base himself out of Kamloops.
“Ivan got ahold of me a year ago and said ‘Ralph, I’m in Mongolia and it’s booming. The mining industry is booming and they need help.’”
Somlai, who is multilingual, spent much of the past five years in Asia, including a stint in Northern Pakistan where he headed up Canada’s only development project in the Taliban area.
His mother’s health brought him back closer to home. But he maintained contacts in Mongolia, where he’d done short-term contracts in past.
“Some of my Mongolian friends apprised me of opportunities in mining.”
Rio Tinto has spent billions developing one of the world’s largest copper-gold mines, called Oyu Tolgoi amid the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia. Production started on Christmas day and will ramp up over the next five years.
But Finch said Mongolians working alongside expatriates from around the world may be working with the latest equipment, but they lack the requisite skills. The former senior administrator who started at former Cariboo College as a welding instructor, has traveled to the Asian country twice to assess workers.
“The supposed training the Mongolians took was entry-level at best.,” Finch said.
That lack of skills results in inevitable production problems and delays, costly for Rio Tinto.
The work is not complete, however. Having identified a need to improve skills, Finch will make two separate trips in 2013, accompanied by a bevy of retired trades instructors.
The first is assisting with design and implementation of an Oyu Tolgoi apprenticeship program.
“We’ll be upskilling on site with the latest technology for electrical, mechanical, millwrights and so on.”
The second project involves Somlai and Finch “training the trainers” at an outside technical school in Mongolia.
Finch is confident with his contacts in trades and technology that he can find the expertise and commitment.
Somlai said while the opportunities are there in Mongolia and its “new mini-city in the middle of the desert”, there is competition from around the world.
“There are hundreds of trainers trying to break in. . . . It’s a feather in our cap we’re able to succeed. We’re small but culturally sensitive with the necessary skills so we can deliver.”