August 2008

HR Outlook

From Forestry to Mining - A new labour market transition initiative

By V. Sánchez

The Mining Labour Market Transition Study (2007), coordinated by MiHR, pointed out that in order for the mining sector to address the skills shortage it would have to turn to non-traditional labour pools, which includes recently released workers from industries in decline. One such industry is forestry.

Forestry has long been an integral part of the Canadian economy. In 2005, its share of the GDP was three per cent; direct sector employment was 339,900 in 2005, or 2.1 per cent of total employment in Canada (Natural Resources Canada, 2007). However, this sector has entered a sustained period of decline. The various factors causing this decline include the high value of the Canadian dollar and energy prices, the ongoing U.S.-Canada softwood lumber dispute and the pine beetle infestation in western Canada. The compounding effects of these factors are the cause of layoffs in key forestry areas across the country.

Many of these laid-off workers possess skills that are highly transferable to mining occupations.

From Forestry to Mining (FF2M) is a new initiative under the coordination of MiHR, funded by the Government of Canada’s Sector Council Program. The main objective of the FF2M initiative is to work collaboratively with mining and forestry employers, organized labour, training institutions and government on skills assessment and gap training tools to help forestry workers transition to new careers in mining.

This project began in spring 2008. Over the next two years, the main activities of the FF2M project will be to conduct at least two pilot research projects to facilitate the transition of workers from forestry to mining. These pilots will focus on forestry operations that are downsizing or planning to downsize and are operating in proximity (or have an affinity) to mining operations that are recruiting a significant number of new workers. Each pilot project will:

  • Form a regional advisory committee to provide guidance during the project.
  • Recruit former forestry workers interested in a new career in mining.
  • Conduct skills assessments with pilot participants to determine transferable skills and areas requiring skills upgrading.
  • Develop gap training programs based on a skills assessment process.
  • Conduct gap training sessions with new mining workers.
  • Record best practices and lessons learned through the process.

Based on these activities, a labour market transition resource kit will be developed and made available to mining and forestry employers as well as related unions across Canada. This resource kit will document best practices in the transition process, skills assessment tools developed, support resources and services available, potential pitfalls and recommendations for increasing success in the transition of workers from forestry to mining.

The FF2M initiative relates closely to the newly developed National Occupational Standards (NOS) being developed under the umbrella of the Canadian Mining Credentials Program. The NOS will serve as the resource that determines the skills required for competent performance in a selection of mining occupations in the areas of underground miner, surface miner and minerals processing operations technician. This information will help in the identification and development of targeted skills upgrading programs required to facilitate the rapid deployment of skilled workers from forestry into mining occupations.

MiHR is also developing a labour market information system that will support labour market transition efforts. The Mining Industry Workforce Intelligence Network (MIWIN) will provide the Canadian mining sector with up-to-date labour market information. MIWIN will capture and analyze data related to labour supply and demand, which inform employers about occupations that will be in high demand in the medium and long terms, and where the potential labour pools may be available. Once potential labour pools are identified, resources such as the labour market transition resource kits may be used to assess and upgrade the skills of new workers.

As project manager at MiHR, Verónica Sánchez is responsible for the development of occupational standards, the Canadian Mining Credentials Program and other projects related to labour market information and transition. Verónica holds a magna cum laude honours degree in international business with a minor in economics from the University of Houston-Downtown.

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