September 2013

HR Outlook

Managing the cycle through workforce planning

By Courtnay Hughes and Sarah Zahid

As the mining sector struggled through the first half of 2013, companies encountered reduced access to financing and limp commodity pricing. The economic climate has created a challenging business environment where mining organizations are forced to take cautionary steps to stay competitive. Some companies have reacted by pressing pause on exploration projects, while others are shedding assets, reducing production targets and in some cases downsizing, as they look toward leaner operations.

The volatility of the economy is unfortunately not the only issue the industry is facing. Globally, the mining sector is forced to confront significant challenges in the attraction, recruitment and retention of skilled workers. In a recent Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) survey, mining employers estimated that roughly 20 per cent of their workforce was eligible to retire in the next three to five years. Even in a contractionary scenario, the mining industry will need to hire 116,860 new workers by 2023, with 62,550 of those workers filling vacancies caused by impending retirements.

The industry’s propensity to be caught in the ebbs and flows of the economy continues to be a great challenge. Perpetually characterized by its cyclical nature, the tenacious turnaround in 2009 illustrated that once on a road to recovery, the mining industry ramps up quickly. This is characterized by an escalation of competition for skilled labour, as companies compete to find the human resources needed to drive their operations forward.

In recent years, mining organizations have become increasingly cognizant of the human resources challenges facing the sector and in response have developed creative workforce strategies to mitigate some of this risk. A new MiHR study of strategic workforce planning highlights a variety of strategies applied by mining employers and other industry stakeholders to engage workers through the highs and lows of the economic cycle. Within the report, organizations shared both the ­challenges and successes with these strategies and provided valuable insight into the execution of these workforce initiatives.

For one, Teck has implemented a knowledge transfer program to increase the retention of corporate knowledge by standardizing specific training initiatives and validating training outcomes. This program allows for a more nimble response to changes in workforce needs by capturing critical knowledge from retiring workers to be efficiently passed on in new worker training.

Cameco has implemented a capacity planning strategy to measure and quantify specific labour needs for particular future production targets. Additionally, redeployment strategies have been implemented by a variety of mining organizations to share human resource capacity amongst projects and to retain key talent through the economic cycle. For mining companies with multiple locations, offering an employee an opportunity at another site broadens that employee’s corporate knowledge, reduces external hiring costs and can be an important career development tool for employees who are moving into more senior leadership roles.

Enlisting workforce strategies through the highs and lows experienced in the industry can be daunting, as resources are scarce and operational pressures mount to reduce costs. Spending money and time on staff initiatives seems counter-productive in the short term. However, as many organizations have demonstrated, staying the course through these challenges and staying engaged with the workforce can and will be a huge cost-saving measure over the long term. Companies can reduce turnover rates, decrease time and resources spent on recruitment, and increase efficiencies as a result of improved performance and reduction in skills gaps through counter-cyclical workforce planning.

Courtnay_HughesSarah ZahidCourtnay Hughes, research analyst with MiHR, leads strategic HR Management research initiatives in workforce planning, education-industry partnerships, and workforce diversity. Sarah Zahid, labour market economist with MiHR, contributes to various research projects, including the improvement and development of MiHR’s labour forecasting models.

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