Dec '08/Jan '09

Voices from Industry

As the world turns, let’s hang on to our greatest assets

By J. Vavrek

Reversing society’s perception that our industry is to be forever caught in a series of boom and bust cycles has been high on the industry’s list of priorities for the last few years now. Many have been working diligently to inform youth, teachers, parents and the media that our sector offers long and stable employment. Part of that message has also been that these careers are available not only for the current demographic of professionals in mining-specific occupations, but for all people — including women, new Canadians and First Nations — in all occupations, all trades and in all areas of the organization, including management.

After all of these efforts, we now we find ourselves in the middle of one of the worst economic downturns ever, triggered by a financial crisis, the likes of which few can recall experiencing. And talk of closures and layoffs are everywhere.

So, where does that leave us? Can we afford to let go of new hires? Are we going to leave future grads without jobs and students without summer employment or work terms? And just what effects will that have on the industry’s reputation and to the message of stability that we have all been working so hard to send?

Yes, all sectors are being affected. However, we should keep in mind that it is widely believed that the demand for metals, minerals and energy will continue to grow, and that our industry is likely to be one of the first ones to rebound.

Being among the most favoured jurisdictions for mining in the world, Canada is poised to be at the forefront of the recovery. That standing, along with the opportunity to strengthen the position of the TSX once financial faucets flow again, should give us strong incentives to find creative ways to weather the storm.

It won’t be easy. It will require flexibility, solidarity, focus, discipline and close monitoring, perhaps to degrees we have never had to call upon before. It will also necessitate working together with HR managers, universities and provincial, territorial and federal partners across the country. But the rewards will be immense. Imagine, as the world turns, what better ace to have in our hand than this talented pool of current and future employees. If we stand by them today, they will become our best ambassadors for tomorrow. Theirs will be the most convincing testimonial, confirming our commitment to change our world from within.

As the world of mining ramps up again, words of our actions in Canada can only help in further attracting talent to our universities, companies and our research and governmental institutions. Doing the right thing now will help us better position the sector around the world  and secure Canada’s global leadership.

At our recent November council meeting, CIM decided to do something to address the fears and concerns that are permeating the industry. As an important starting point, we will immediately begin looking to work with other industry partners to take the pulse of our sector’s labour situation and to identify areas of concern, as well as opportunities for action.

Individuals at all organizational levels have deployed a great deal of energy, creativity, passion and determination to make solid headway in changing public perceptions about our sector across Canada. Such change takes decades to instill, but can be reversed very rapidly.

We now have an opportunity to come together as an industry, muster new resources and resolve, look out for one another and discover new ways to face the challenge, even if it seems insurmountable. At this pivotal juncture, we can do something that will inspire our present employees, future workers and society in general. We can actually use this less than opportune time to improve the reputation of the sector.

Once current realities right themselves, we can emerge much stronger and better armed to face the next global event that might blindside us. But maybe next time, with new lessons learned from today’s experiences and a committed pool of talented employees, we will be better equipped to see it coming and heed it off.

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