May 2012

HR Outlook

Collaborative workforce planning addresses skills shortage

By Eldon Holder and Martha Roberts

The mining industry traditionally adopts an operational outlook on workforce planning: the motivating incentive for developing a plan is usually to maximize profit and minimize costs. Through this lens, HR functions are often among the first to feel the pinch when an organization tightens its belt.

As the national HR council for the Canadian mining and exploration sector, the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) develops HR solutions that help employers take a strategic approach to workforce planning in order to mitigate the impact of the impending labour shortage.

Last October, MiHR facilitated its first Strategic Workforce Planning Round Table in Toronto to help develop a more sustainable approach to workforce planning. Attendees included HR leaders, workforce planners and HR superintendents from across the country.

The event, which focused on building a collaborative approach to workforce planning, highlighted the value of aligning HR metrics and workforce analytics with operational needs and business strategy goals.

Discussion included a case study of a strategic workforce planning initiative at Cameco, where HR and operations partnered to analyze and optimize the human capital factors that drive productivity and lead to better business outcomes.

Cameco’s aim is to develop workforce capability for the future of the organization, with HR serving as a strategic partner and aligning with the various business units in their organization.

Round table participants discussed workforce optimization as a means to soften the impact of the economic cycle and of fluctuating commodity prices on the industry’s workforce. Workforce optimization allows for more effective and efficient use of workers, and for organizations to prepare for contingencies, while also building and protecting the existing workforce. A sound plan capitalizes on both immediate and long-term opportunities. Furthermore, it is proactive and driven by internal business needs, as opposed to being reactive to external factors.

Strategic workforce planning at Cameco

Cameco Corporation, based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is one of the world’s leading producers of uranium. The company has a strong commitment to developing and supporting a stable and skilled workforce.

In 2011, Cameco engaged in an initiative to better understand how human capital decisions affect outputs at selected operating sites. At Cameco, workforce optimization was an exercise in comprehending the role of human capital in company operations to achieve proactive workforce planning. It was a coordinated and cooperative effort between HR and operations that stimulated a key discussion and that identified how human capital data can provide valuable insight on how to change work schedules, shift structures and identify other measures that could boost productivity and efficiency, and potentially reduce costs.

To meet their objectives, the operations and HR departments worked collaboratively to extract, analyze and interpret workforce and production data for select job families. The company isolated areas in data collection where standardization and new data collection efforts would foster collaboration and communication flow across sites and functional units.

The data was then analyzed to identify how human capital drives production. Trends were identified, and operations and HR interpreted findings via interviews and discussions. At present, Cameco is examining the strategies used to identify successes and areas in need of improvement. The company aims to develop strategic initiatives where HR and operations collaborate in creating policy adjustments and in making staffing decisions aimed at reaching its objectives.

Outcomes from this initiative will assist Cameco in planning efforts to have the right person in the right job at the right time. It will streamline talent acquisition efforts and address gaps in staffing, recruiting and retention strategies to ensure future success.

MiHR anticipates building on the success of the industry-wide venture to integrate HR and operations departments in the process of workforce planning. Ongoing research initiatives include the development of a network of peers, as well as a suite of tools and resources for strategic workforce planning, in addition to the creation of a report, Managing the Cycle: Counter-Cyclical Workforce Planning in Mining, which will be available to HR leaders in the coming year.

As research assistant, Eldon Holder develops research products that contribute to the strategic direction of the Council and support the director of research in the coordination of research activities under MiHR's Research for Industry Sustainability priority.

As director of research, Martha Roberts is responsible for enhancing the labour market information available to mining and mineral exploration stakeholders and investigating the short- and long-term human resources issues facing the industry. Martha holds her PhD in psychology from the University of Waterloo and has won several awards for her research.

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