May 2008

Mining for talent

Engaging 50+ workers to beat the workforce crisis

By B. Jaworski

A war is coming to Canada. This war won’t involve guns and grenades, but it will still have an explosive effect on the daily lives of all Canadians for years to come. It’s the escalating battle for talent — and it’s getting dirty. Early skirmishes are already occurring in several sectors as companies raid each other’s labour forces and fight for an ever-decreasing number of new young recruits. There is a secret weapon that can help win this war, and it’s one that many companies are overlooking — the skilled over-50 worker.

Talent contest

Study after study has found that companies throughout the western world consider the most important corporate resource over the next 20 years will be talent — people who are technologically literate, globally astute and operationally agile. However, as the demand for talent heats up, the supply will go down.

The problem is one of demographics. The enormous post-WWII baby boom generation makes up one-third of Canada’s present population and has dominated the workforce for the past 35 years. Many of them — particularly early boomers — are also in high demand in knowledge and skill-based professions. But these same workers are planning or beginning their retirement.

Over the next 20 years, almost 10 million Canadians will be leaving the workforce, taking their years of experience and industry knowledge with them. Further compounding the problem is the fact that there are simply not enough younger, skilled workers available globally to fill the void that occurred as the birth rate crashed throughout the western world following 1964. It has rallied somewhat in the last few years with the arrival of the boomer’s children — the so-called “Gen Y” — but it will be years before this demographic makes a significant impact in the workforce.

This situation is not unique to Canada, but it is more critical here than many other countries because we have the largest baby boom population in the Western Hemisphere. There are now more Canadians over the age of 60 than under the age of five and this is not expected to change anytime soon.

Between 2001 and 2006, total employment in this country increased at an annual average rate of 1.7 per cent, the fastest rate increase among the Group of Seven (G7) nations. Statistics Canada predicts that by 2016, the demand for workers will outpace supply — although that’s already taking place in many industries.

Mining Canadian talent

Statistics Canada’s 2006 Labour Force Census indicated that the fastest growth in employment occurred in the mining and oil and gas extraction industry, where employment increased at an average pace of 7.5 per cent a year — nearly four times the national average. Alberta alone accounted for 70 per cent of the employment growth in this industry.

At the same time, the Canadian mining sector’s gross domestic product growth has been about twice that of the overall Canadian economy since 2002, and economic indicators point to continued growth in the mining industry for several more years. This places additional pressure on the sector to meet the increasing demand for skilled workers. Adding to the problem for the industry is the fact that fewer younger people have been choosing to pursue a career in the skilled trades.

So it’s going to be an uphill battle — one that can be won with some strategic planning and quick action. And that plan should include consideration being afforded to the older worker.

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