Sept/Oct 2011

HR Outlook

Investing in training and safety: Quinsam Coal’s approach to meeting labour challenges

By L. Forcellini

Quinsam encourages ethnic and gender diversity, collaborating with First Nations communities to communicate employment opportunities | Courtesy of MiHR

The impending skills shortage continues to be the subject of many discussions in the mining industry. Online networks and communities of practice, such as the Canadian Mining HR Professionals Group on LinkedIn, created by the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR), help bring companies together to develop new solutions to bolster the attraction of skilled workers.

MiHR has been showcasing innovative practices in this column in the last few issues of CIM Magazine. The following practice, submitted to MiHR Innovate by Quinsam Coal Corporation, illustrates one company’s approach to meeting the labour challenges faced across the mining industry.

A strong commitment to training and development

With 2011 marking its 24th year in business and with approximately 150 people on its payroll, Quinsam Coal Corporation is a key employer in Campbell River, British Columbia, and one of only two underground coal mines in Canada. While the company is not currently undertaking a specific, large-scale HR initiative, it has continually strived to apply best practices in areas such as hiring, training, safety and diversity – practices that over the years have helped equip them with the human resources needed to meet the challenges of an aging workforce and senior-level attrition.

Quinsam invests heavily in training. Its intensive program begins with two weeks of classroom instruction that focuses on mine rescue and maintaining personal and team safety, followed by four to six weeks of underground and on-the-job training. After approximately six months, trainees become general miners, but the training does not stop there. Employees head back to the classroom to receive instruction on gases and ventilation, firefighting and general life-saving. This is followed by more on-the-job training and another day in the classroom, this time with Quinsam’s geologist, who provides instruction in areas related to ground control, room and pillar and how to identify and mine faults.

While learning is ongoing, the majority of formal training is considered complete at about one year, at which time a general miner becomes a face miner. If the face miner expresses interest and is deemed a suitable candidate, he or she may then decide to train to become a continuous miner operator.

As the training illustrates, safety is a number-one priority for Quinsam. In fact, the company is planning to revamp its current safety program by adopting “Courageous Safety Leadership,” an industry-recognized set of best practices that advocates individual ownership of safety.

In addition to its thorough training program, Quinsam also has in place a four-year trades apprentice program. There are usually four apprentices (two electricians and two millwrights or heavy-duty mechanics) in the program.

Ethnic and gender diversity are also encouraged. The company collaborates with First Nations communities to communicate employment opportunities, and employs two female tradespeople – a welder and a heavy duty mechanic.

Quinsam recognizes the importance of providing young people opportunities for professional development and advancement. They focus on hiring locally wherever possible and, as indicated by the aforementioned training and apprenticeship programs, endeavour to develop and promote talent from within. Overall, the company works to foster a culture of social responsibility. “We take the time to teach young people not only to become skilled workers, but also to be responsible employees,” says Marilyn Klotz, manager of human resources.

Quinsam’s investment in its people has paid off in a low turnover rate. With regard to apprentices, for example, the company has lost only one, who left to work elsewhere. Finally, by focusing on training and promoting within, rather than hiring outside expertise, the company now sees itself as better positioned to meet the labour challenges faced across the mining industry. They have made a significant number of new hires in recent years, and now those same new hires have become highly trained employees who have the skills and knowledge to help ensure the company’s continued well-being.

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Lindsay_ForcelliniLindsay Forcellini is marketing and communications coordinator at MiHR.
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