June/July 2009


Highly Qualified People: A key resource to drive innovation in mining

By M. Scoble

When it boils down to it, enterprise is all about people. We are increasingly recognizing the critical contribution of talented people to our mining community. This is reflected in the emergence of the term Highly Qualified People (HQP) within the strategic vision of the Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC). HQP are those upon whose technical, business and social skills the operational integrity and leadership of  the Canadian mining industry is dependant. Their skills, competence and motivation result from a combination of educational and training experiences, ranging from secondary through tertiary education; employment training and experience; and lifelong learning. Consultations within the mining community during the evolution of CMIC made it apparent that HQP were viewed as being fundamental to growing and maintaining an outstanding innovation culture.

The key to developing our human resources was recognized to lie in the pursuit of education, training and research activities oriented to serve the mining industry. Close collaboration between industry, government, academic and societal groups was considered critical to fostering innovation, a need that CMIC is well-oriented and equipped to meet. It was thus natural to form a working group within CMIC focused on HQP-related research, initiatives and strategies.

The HQP working group will address various disciplinary sectors within the Canadian mining industry, from exploration through mining to downstream processes, with a current strategy of five initiatives.

Early actions towards an effective counter-cyclical HQP strategy

In the past, in response to market downturns, mining companies tended to shed HQP and permanently lost that talent while mining school enrolments often suffered decline. This historical record needs to be recognized and broken through an effective counter-cyclical strategy to ensure that Canada’s mining HQP base (including within the mineral exploration sector) is not eroded by the current economic downturn, and to maintain student confidence and interest in mining-related education and the industry.

Improved industry-academia engagement

Greater value can be drawn from existing institutional structures, especially from industry advisory committees at centres of mining education across Canada. During 2009, the working group is organizing events at high-profile venues (like the CIM Conference and Exhibition), to bring industry, government and mining school representatives together to address the need for improved engagement and collaboration.

Fostering co-operative mining education

Well-designed co-op education programs are proven to enrich the post-secondary educational experience. In addition to positive educational outcomes for students, they can bring important short- and long-term benefits to the industry. Beginning in mid-2009, the HQP working group will work to increase and broaden industry participation in co-op programs.

Strengthening the HQP research base

Adequate investment in people is fundamental to strengthening Canada’s mining HQP base in R&D. There are obvious synergies to build with the research being planned by other CMIC working groups. During 2009, the HQP working group will work with these other groups to develop a coherent and integrated CMIC strategy for new funding for targeted mining research from existing federal, provincial and territorial government programs. The objective is to expand support for research that will ensure the development of future HQP in key specialist areas.

Mapping the mining HQP base

The CMIC HQP working group is collaborating with the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) on research that will map Canada’s mining HQP stocks and flows today and into the future and identify best practices in HQP attraction, retention and development. Unfortunately, we currently have little knowledge and understanding of what shapes peoples’ career paths into and within mining. The determining factors may be motivation, expectations, skills, training, professional development, career navigation and experiences.

These five initiatives by CMIC’s HQP Working Group represent a unique effort to understand the nature of our highly qualified people. They will address the recruitment, retention, education and professional development of this key human resource with the ultimate aim of fostering the optimum technical, business and social qualities required to drive innovation excellence in next-generation Canadian mining.

Malcolm Scoble holds the Robert E. Hallbauer Chair in Mining and Sustainability in the Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering at the UBC. He is a member of the board of directors of MiHR and of the Canada Mining Innovation Council.

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