Operator Training in Mining and Mineral Processing: What, When, How?

Part One: Training Plan and Deliverables


Your company is planning to build a new mineral processing or hydrometallurgical plant. The company took many stages of study and evaluation to reach to this decision to go ahead with detail design and hire an EPCM engineering firm to deliver the project. Once the processing plant has been designed, equipment has been ordered, and construction & installation is ongoing, perhaps the largest factor affecting success is the capability of plant operating personnel. Normally under the project control master plan there is a clear path planned for construction, installation, commissioning, start-up and ramp up of the project.  But, in which stage should the company start hiring the operation crew (including engineers, supervisors, operators and trades) and train the workforce for safety, efficiency and skills?  What approach should be taken? What skills should the operators, engineers and managers master for success?

An area where management can significantly improve the probability of success of a new process plant is no doubt operator training. It’s clear that training plays a key role in addressing mining “qualified” workforce shortage. For a green-field project, it is very important to plan appropriately and ahead of time so new crew train on how to perform their new jobs. In brown-field projects, by providing a training program that helps employees improve in productivity, efficiency and safety, at the same time, you create a workplace culture that has a more positive attitude and higher morale.

In this discussion, we focus mostly on greenfield projects however, most of the same principles apply for any expansion projects. The training model that needs to be established for each project is different. In most cases competency based training documents should be created (normally by a technical writer) and finalised by the commissioning team members, then, reviewed and approved by client operation members.

Operational readiness in terms of training for any metallurgical process plant generally encompasses the following:

  • Training needs identified.
  • Training planning established.
  • Training material developed, and
  • Training sessions scheduled and delivered.

Equipment and plant ownership changes throughout the project’s life cycle progression. There is a need to have a formal training plan in place early for smooth hand over and assurance of success in terms of maximum productivity and safety. Normally by the end of commissioning, all the Operations, Maintenance and Support staff required for the day-to-day running of the plant, must be capable of doing so.  Therefore all training needs and necessities must be identified and a Training Plan for the new facility must be developed along with commissioning plans. The Training Plan for the new facility needs to cover all roles that are affected or created and the competencies applicable for each role. It needs to consider both initial and ongoing training.

What is the Training Plan?

While it is the responsibility of the processing plant owner to ensure a Training Plan is developed, the work may be done by an external training resource (like OreVenture) and /or process engineering and operational staff.

The Training Plan shall identify the roles that are affected or created by the facility and the competencies applicable for each role. Where possible, competencies shall be common across roles or moduled so those requiring fewer skills do not need to complete the full training. For example a maintainer who only requires to move a machine for maintenance does not need to be trained to the same skill level as the operator of the machine.

The Training Plan shall also consider the level of outcome required:

  • Level 1 is used for familiarisation training and is designed to provide the member with background knowledge only.
  • Level 2 indicates that the member may be employed on the task, but only under supervision. The implication is that some other training (for example, on-the-job) must be undertaken for the member to become fully competent.
  • Level 3 indicates that the member has achieved competence and can be employed safely on the task.

The Training Plan shall consider the need for initial and ongoing training.  It should consider:

  • The training requirement (number of people, course size, limitations of the existing operations).
  • Training facilities, equipment requirements.
  • Personnel requirements (additional staff).
  • Types of training and potential delivery mechanisms.
  • Moving from the initial facility training to sustainable ongoing training, and
  • The responsibility for developing, checking and the various documents required for each competency.

For each competency a Training and Assessment Standard Plan needs to be developed.

How to Deliver the Training?

The training delivery methods need to be suitable for the skills being taught and aimed at the people being trained and the outcome required.  For operators and maintainers, hands-on training is essential. Training is often effectively delivered on a ‘train the trainer’ basis.

One method is through e-learning.  The benefits of this approach include:

  • The client has a permanent record of the training content in a data library.
  • Given that a lot of similar equipment is installed across a processing plant, this enables best use to be made of existing training content.
  • The trainee can complete the necessary training self-paced at any time (24/7 for shift workers), and the results automatically added to their qualifications.
  • The site trainer and assessor will have the ability to run a report in the system (In-house database, SAP, LMS, etc.) on statistics to identify progress and ensure the training is completed by the required date.

Depending on the time constraints surrounding training, the following options might be appropriate for the e-learning component of the training:

  1. If the time frame is sufficient to provide e-learning from the beginning: The course would be prepared and added to the intended trainees’ profile or course catalogue. The trainees would then be advised of their training requirements and completion date, and provided with time to complete the training as part of their normal work shifts.
  2. If the time frame is insufficient to present via e-learning from the beginning: Initial training could be classroom whilst e-learning material is prepared. On-going training is then completed via e-learning. Most recently some mineral processing plants are adopting simulators and virtual reality (VR) training on which the operators can learn more in minutes in a real training environment than in hours of a lecture instruction.

What Should be Trained?

While developing a Training Plan, the question that needs to be answered is what sort of training do the operators require? This can be determined by performing job task analysis by a subject matter expert. Here is a generic summary list that needs to be covered:

  • Site Orientation and Introduction: This first training session will provide the basic information about site specific general rules and policies, some general safety awareness, etc.
  • Safety Related Training: Job specific safety topics will be provided to operators, supervisors and other crew members. Some topics are: Fall Arrest, Confined Space, Isolation Training, Lock-In Lock-Out, etc.
  • Process Training: Operator training of systems and programs occur before and during commissioning and will be coordinated by the commissioning and start up coordinator. In this stage the operator will learn about the process general description and function of each circuit.  The equipment, circuit piping, flows, materials handled, instrumentation will be presented.  Operators participate with the commissioning team in the various stages of commissioning and start-up.
  • Vendor Training: The vendor training is an integral part of the training for each processing plant and should be included in the Training Plan. The commissioning trainer shall review the training packages and assessments proposed by the vendor to ensure that they are to the specified quality and are in accordance with the Training Plan. The people delivering the training and conducting the assessments shall have the necessary qualifications as required by the client’s training policies. All new specialist equipment will have operator and maintenance training included by the specialist vendors.
  • Hazardous Area and Material Training: These include firefighting, emergency response and awareness of substances in use in the operation. In a metallurgical plant these include reagents, intermediate products, gases, etc. Some plants include environmental monitoring program and awareness to this area of training.
  • Fire and Emergency Shut-Down Training: As with Hazardous Area training, the training for the Fire and Emergency Shut Down system will be provided by a specialist.
  • Post Commissioning Operator Training / Assistance and Refresher Training: While operator training will be achieved through previous steps and through experience and on the job knowledge gained during commissioning, companies like OreVenture will be available to assist in the ongoing training of the operations personnel.

Part Two of this discussion presents “Training Materials and Time of Delivery”.

OreVenture Training & Technical Services will provide the following services for metallurgical plant operator training:

  • Training needs analysis.
  • Developing training plan, training manual, operator manual & procedure, work instructions, etc.
  • Providing refresher training on each job,
  • Providing training instructors and facilities.
  • Supervisory and professional training and workshops.

Remember; Safety, Efficiency, Productivity and Profit cannot be reached without operator and front line supervisor training.