March/April 2010

HR Outlook

Assessing competencies: Mining industry workers to be certified in industry pilot

By B. Kirby

Attracting and retaining top talent is a priority for the mining industry. One of the key strategies for addressing this is to define a set of nationally recognized occupational standards and to certify workers against them. Certifying workers to industry-defined standards ensures that the training, skills and experience of existing and potential new workers meet the needs of employers. Building a common understanding across the country about previously unrecognized or loosely defined occupations will help to support mobility in the labour pool and facilitate the recruitment of workers at new and existing mine sites.

Workers who have trade designations such as electricians and millwrights hold qualification certificates that are recognized by employers across the country. However, there is no equivalent system to recognize skilled and experienced workers in “undesignated” occupations such as miners or minerals processing operators. As a result, mining sector employers may struggle to assess the qualifications of experienced candidates and may have to waste resources retraining new recruits in areas where they have already demonstrated competency.

Furthermore, the lack of valid credentials may lead to frustration and a lack of loyalty to the sector and their occupation among some mining employees. Workers with skill sets that are not recognized may seek opportunities elsewhere.

For the past three and a half years, MiHR and a group of stakeholders have been working together to build a suite of National Occupational Standards (NOS) that create a common understanding of the skills, competencies and knowledge required to work safely and proficiently in various occupations in the mining industry. The NOS for underground miners, minerals processing operators and surface miners are now complete and others are in the development stages. These standards will be used as benchmarks for conducting workplace assessments and certifying workers who have demonstrated that their skills and knowledge meet or exceed the newly defined industry standards.

Piloting the program

The certification program will be piloted at four to five sites across Canada early in 2010. The purpose of these pilot projects is to test the policies, procedures, assessment tools and certification process and to allow the Standing Committee on Certification to evaluate the program, to modify it to ensure its efficiency and effectiveness, and to develop recommendations for its full implementation across Canada.

The identification of pilot locations is currently underway and a pilot project planning kit is being developed to help inform and guide program implementation at pilot sites. Support, advice and guidance will be available through MiHR’s Canadian Mining Credentials program staff and through members of the Standing Committee on Certification throughout the one-year pilot phase.


Barbara Kirby,  senior director, workforce development, MiHR, is responsible for several initiatives including the Mining Industry Workforce Information Network (MIWIN) and the Canadian Mining Credentials program. Barbara holds a master’s degree in economics. She has over 20 years of experience in Canada and abroad, including in Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, Ghana, Botswana, India, Nepal and Jordan.

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