February 2008

HR Outlook

Defining the work we do: the National Mining Credentials Program

By V. Sanchez

The Canadian mining industry has identified that there will be an increased demand for mine workers in the coming years. Current estimates suggest the need may be as high as 9,200 new workers per year over the next 10 years (Mining Industry Human Resources Council, 2007). To address these HR challenges, industry has developed a strategy for workforce development and skills recognition through the National Mining Credentials Program.

This initiative, under the coordination of the Mining Industry Human Resources Council, began in 2006 with the development of the first three National Occupational Standards for the Canadian mining industry. These National Occupational Standards were created for the occupational areas of underground mining, surface mining and minerals processing operations. These first sets of standards will serve as a foundation for two systems under the umbrella of the National Mining Credentials Program:

  • the Mining Worker Certification System
  • the Mining Training Accreditation System

The certification and accreditation systems will be the first in the Canadian context for mine workers and employers.

Historically, there has not been a pan-Canadian worker recognition framework for miners, even though mining is a fundamental part of the Canadian economy and culture. Many Canadian communities thrive because of mining, with generations of miners who have joined the industry. However, with the changing economic outlook and the different mine closures, as well as new mines opening, there is a need for mine workers to possess a portable credential. A national certification system would provide such a credential and at the same time recognize the skills, knowledge and experience of miners through industry-defined assessment. Development stages for the national worker certification system should begin early in 2008.

Proactive workforce planning that addresses the labour crunch also requires proper training tools. Through a national accreditation system, education and training institutions will be able to develop training and curricula that responds to industry’s skills needs. Accreditation will also ensure that there is consistent training across Canada, as training programs will use the National Occupational Standards and their associated training standards as a foundation to become accredited.

Moreover, training institutions will be better able to attract and train more students, which will address the skills shortage. This can be accomplished through promoting industry’s endorsement of accredited training programs that increase the hiring rates of new graduates.

Planned activities on the development of a training accreditation system should begin later in 2008.

These tools will be developed through industry consultation at every step of the way to ensure that they have industry’s stamp of approval. Thus, the development process will take some time, but the first certified workers will have gone through the process within the next two years. In the meantime, it is possible to develop other programming, based on the National Occupational Standards that lead to accreditation and certification, as can be seen in the figure.

For instance, one of the objectives for the next phase of development is the creation of entry-level skills profiles or training standards, based on the National Occupational Standards for underground mining, surface mining and minerals processing operations. Entry-level skills would define the curriculum requirements for training new workers in the industry; in other words, the skills and knowledge new workers should possess to enter a mining occupation.

On the other side, assessment guides for Prior Learning Assessment and Foreign Credentials Recognition could be developed, using the National Occupational Standards as a foundation. These guides would expand the labour pool by identifying skills of exiting workers from industries in decline, such as forestry. They would also serve to assess the skills of new Canadians and foreign workers wishing to enter a mining occupation. Based on the identified requirements stemming from these guides, gap training programs could be developed to fully equip these workers for a career in mining.

These programs and systems would not be possible without industry participation. Industry has contributed and engaged in the development process, ensuring that the resulting outputs are by industry, for industry. Continued industry participation and engagement is the backbone of these programs that will provide industry recognition for skills and workforce development tools.

Veronica Sanchez is the project manager of the Mining Industry Human Resources Council.

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