Sept/Oct 2008

HR Outlook

The Virtual MineMentor Program

By M. Sturk

Modernizing mentorship to address today’s skills shortage

The mining sector is facing critical shortages of skilled workers. One of several factors contributing to this crisis is the dramatic rate of attrition in mining-related programs at Canadian colleges and universities. The 2005 Prospecting the Future sector study revealed that there was a 28 per cent attrition rate in certificate programs and a 7.4 per cent attrition rate in undergraduate degree programs.

As identified in the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Employment Profile: 2000-2001, graduate outcome surveys indicate a significant loss of mining graduates to other sectors of the economy. For example, the Ontario College Graduate Profile for 2000-01 revealed that only 39 per cent of graduates from mining programs at Cambrian College, Northern College and Sir Sandford Fleming College were working in a field related to their program of study.

Mentoring should be a key component of any comprehensive recruitment and retention strategy. MiHR, through the Mining Industry Attraction, Recruitment and Retention Strategy (MARS), is developing a unique mentoring program to mitigate this problem. MiHR’s mentoring program will facilitate relationships between post-secondary students in mining-related disciplines and outstanding industry employees. Mentors and mentees will be matched based on synergies between the career goals, mentorship goals and field of study of the mentee, and the career experience, position and mentorship goals of the mentor. Establishing an early link to the mining industry is critical to improving sector exposure and thereby decreasing mining-related program attrition rates. Mentors will provide students with general guidance as well as workplace knowledge, thus creating a stronger bridge from school to work.

Traditionally, mentorship requires the matched mentor and protégé to spend time together, in the same physical space. MiHR’s Virtual MineMentor Program will operate by means of virtual mentoring, which allows participants to communicate over long distances and in real time. MineMentor will be centralized through an online portal, where communication occurs via web forums, email, community message boards, blogging, etc. Because virtual mentoring requires little to no face-to-face contact, it is the optimal choice when connecting participants in remote areas. This type of mentoring is also beneficial because it increases the frequency and speed of communication.

V-mentors will receive guidance through training developed by MiHR and an industry steering committee to provide professional, quality mentoring to their respective protégés. They will have ongoing access to support from the MineMentor coordinator and resources on the MiHR website. The V-­mentor will: provide general guidance, support and advice; promote the exploration of career possibilities within the minerals and metals sector; be a first point of contact for networking within the industry; and act as a role model. Mentors should have excellent communication skills, be open and tolerant and, most importantly, they should possess an infectious love for their work and sector. They must be willing to invest their time to inspire and engage.

Research shows that mentors realize the great value that is intrinsic in guiding their protégés. The pride and gratification experienced by the mentor can also result in increased retention and in an improvement in their perception of their employer. They truly make a difference.

According to the Government of Canada: “In organizations with mentoring programs there is a greater sense of belonging, loyalty, encouragement for all employees to grow and be recognized by someone other than within their working group.”

MiHR’s program will undergo a pilot phase with engineers from September to December, 2008. Findings from the pilot will be incorporated before broadening the participant base and making the service available in French. As with all MiHR projects, the Virtual MineMentor Program is being developed under the guidance of a national steering committee that includes significant industry representation. The program is thus being created by the industry for the industry.

MiHR is looking for outstanding industry employees in the engineering field to help pilot MineMentor. Contact MiHR at

Melanie Sturk is the project manager for the Mining Attraction, Recruitment and Retention Strategy project at MiHR and Explore for More. Melanie holds a Bachelor of Recreation Management from Acadia University and a certificate in Project Management Essentials training from the University of Toronto.

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