March/April 2012

HR prospecting and developing

Perspectives on finding, cultivating and keeping talent

By Alexandra Lopez-Pacheco

Opportunities for transfer of knowledge from the older generation to those entering the industry is one of the most attractive things a company can offer new recruits | Courtesy of MiHR

Sound solutions to human resource challenges are at the core of all business successes – especially mining. There are many best practices out there being used by the industry that have earned some of its members province and countrywide recognition. So how can a company distinguish itself? CIM Magazine sought insights from employees and potential employees, as well as employers and HR experts, all of whom ultimately want the industry to be successful. The following are some of those insights.

Speak up!

While mining companies are competing with each other for talent, they are also competing with other industries. “I think there are a number of initiatives targeting youth, high school students, new Canadians and Aboriginal people, but as an industry, I don’t think mining has done a whole lot to communicate the value it brings to society and the career opportunities it brings,” says Ryan Montpellier, executive director of the Mining Industry Human Resources Council. He cites the recent Rio Tinto commercials, which promote the company’s CSR efforts and positive contributions, as an example of signs this is starting to change. “I think you’re going to see more and more of this type of thing as the war for talent grows,” he explains.

Ryan Cunningham, an engineer who recently left his PhD studies to work full time in the industry because the opportunities were too great to put off, says the mining sector needs to join the conversation. “There’s a lot of people who go out there and really rip the industry, but we don’t have the champions of counter-communication saying, ‘Yeah, there are things that are wrong, but we’re doing a lot of good, and voicing the message that the world needs metals, and if we can make mining even better, the whole world benefits.”

Go long

Have a long-term plan rather than just having HR policies based on short-term needs and economic cycles. “We do a lot of workforce planning and there have been times in tough economies when we’ve actually over-hired, putting in buffer positions, knowing we have a crunch coming,” says Tom Diment, Agrium Inc.’s vice-president of potash and phosphate operations in Saskatchewan, whose company recently hired 13 engineering grads. “Sometimes we get the people when they’re available even if we don’t need them at that moment. We only had nine positions available but we went to leadership and told them we want to hire four extra ones because they’re so great, and it was a two-second conversation to get the approval.”

A good strategy starts with focusing on developing the local population, particularly Aboriginal peoples, says Richard Long, professor and head of human resources and organizational behaviour at the University of Saskatchewan. “If you start with training programs when they’re relatively young, you’re going to have better retention,” explains Long. “You’re hiring people who want to live in the community rather than renting employees and flying them in.”

Syncrude Canada Ltd., for example, invests heavily in programs geared to high school students. “We have an employee on loan at Father Mercredi Community High School in Fort McMurray, who teaches welding there,” says Cheryl Robb, spokesperson for Syncrude Canada Ltd. “We also donated $1 million to the school to build new science and technology labs. We try to attract people and individuals as employees and grow them so they have long careers with us.”

The company also recently donated $5 million to Keyano College, with $2 million of the donation going towards the Syncrude Aboriginal Trades Preparation Program there.

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