Sept/Oct 2007

HR Outlook

Virtual mentoring to address today’s skills shortage

By M. Sturk

Mentoring should be a key component of any comprehensive recruitment and retention strategy. The process of matching a new recruit with an experienced advisor to guide new employees as they make their way in a new workplace environment can be a rewarding and mutually beneficial experience for both mentor and protégé. The mining sector is facing critical shortages of skilled workers. In fact, the industry must recruit approximately 10,000 new workers per year over the next 10 years in order to meet anticipated labour growth and replace retiring workers.

One of several contributing factors to this crisis is the dramatic rate of attrition in mining-related programs at Canadian colleges and universities. The industry is losing an estimated 28 per cent of its students from mining-related disciplines, such as geoscience, engineering, and technician/technologist programs across the country through mid-program attrition. Furthermore, up to 37 per cent of the students who do graduate from mining-related programs will go on to work in other sectors.

The Mining Industry Human Resources Council, through the Mining Industry’s Attraction, Recruit­ment, and Reten­tion Strategy (MARS Project) is developing a mentoring program to mitigate this problem. This element of the MARS project will facilitate the creation of one-on-one relationships between students (as early as their first year of study) and industry leaders. Establishing that first link to our industry is critical. In addition to providing the students with general guidance and advice, the mentors will be able to offer the students with a working world context that relates back to their field of study, thereby creating a stronger bridge from school to work.

The program will be rooted in mentoring best practices, but will deviate from tradition by using non-standard pairing conventions and by using modern communication technology.

Instead of pairing a seasoned worker with a new employee, MiHR’s Mentorship Program will match experienced workers with post-secondary students in mining-related disciplines. Mentors and protégés will be matched based on the protégés’ career goals and field of study and the mentors’ career experience, education, career path, position, and more.

Traditionally, mentorship requires the matched mentor and protégé to spend time together, in the same physical space. MiHR will be utilizing virtual mentoring, which allows participants to communicate over long distances and in real time. Virtual mentoring incorporates both e-mentoring, where communication occurs via telephone and email, and web-based mentoring, which incorporates web-based communications such as web forums and “blogging.” Because virtual mentoring requires no face-to-face contact, it is the optimal choice when connecting to participants in remote areas. This type of mentoring is also beneficial due to the fact that it increases the frequency and speed of communication.

Mentors will receive guidance through training modules developed by MiHR and industry -steering committee members, in order to provide professional, quality mentoring to their respective protégés, and will have ongoing access to support resources on the MiHR website. The mentors will work to achieve the following:

  • 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.
  • 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 great intrinsic value in guiding their protégés. They truly make a difference.

The pride and gratification experienced by the mentor can also result in increased retention of the mentors and in an improvement in their perception of their employer.

“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.”

To ensure the best possible results, MiHR’s program will undergo a pilot phase with a specific field of study (TBA) in 2008. Findings from the pilot will be incorporated before broadening the participant base and expanding the program across the country. As with all MiHR projects, the virtual mine mentoring program will be developed under the guidance of a national steering committee that will include significant industry representation. The program will be created with industry for industry.

Collaboration and innovative initiatives, such as the virtual mentoring program, are key to addressing the current labour shortage.

For more information on the MARS project or other MiHR initiatives, please visit or contact Mel Sturk:

Melanie Sturk is the project manager for the Mining Attraction, Recruitment and Retention project at MiHR.

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