June/July 2008

HR Outlook

Immigrants – a key resource for the mining sector

By B. Kirby

The Canadian mining industry is facing significant labour challenges over the next decade and beyond. Recent research conducted by the Mining Industry Human Resources Council points to as many as 92,000 new jobs that will need to be filled between now and 2017. In the face of red-hot growth in our sector, many new mine projects are gearing up to open, skilled workers are being recruited for existing operations, while around 40 per cent of the current workforce is set to retire in the coming decade.

The labour shortage will be exacerbated by the stiff competition from other sectors for skilled personnel — professionals, tradespersons and general labour. The fact that many of the job opportunities in other burgeoning sectors of the Canadian economy, such as construction, electricity generation, and oil and gas are located in larger, more urbanized areas makes recruitment and retention an even bigger challenge for mining sector employers.

In 2003, Statistics Canada predicted that by 2011, Canada would be almost entirely dependent upon immigrants for growth in the labour force. This prediction points to the need for the Canadian mining industry to put in place strategies for engaging and integrating internationally trained and experienced workers in all areas of our workforce. MiHR is currently undertaking a number of initiatives that will facilitate the development and implementation of these targeted approaches, ranging from documentation and sharing of successful immigrant engagement models to developing national occupational standards that can be used to evaluate international credentials and experience.

A newly published Statistics Canada report offers encouraging information that may contribute to the development of effective strategies for increasing participation of immigrants in the mining sector labour market. The January 2008 edition of Perspectives contains an article entitled “Immigrants in the Hinterland,” which concludes that “Immigrants living outside the largest urban centres can translate their credentials acquired abroad into a relative income advantage more easily. They are more likely to overcome their lack of ability in an official language, quickly learning English or French, enabling them to increase their ability to generate income faster.”

The analysis in the “Immigrants in the Hinterland” report shows that the more rapid economic integration of immigrants in rural areas holds true for workers with lower levels of education, as well as those with university degrees. The data suggests that every immigrant with a university degree achieved income parity in small urban and rural communities within four years and, in some cases, within less than a year, whereas some university educated immigrants in large urban centres did not achieve income parity even 13 years after their arrival. In most cases, the same pattern emerges for those with no degree who live in small urban or rural areas.

This is particularly good news, as recent labour market research examining occupations in high demand for the mining sector showed that employers are facing recruitment challenges not only for skilled trades such as electricians and millwrights, but also for degree-bearing geologists, engineers and accountants.

To capitalize on this comparative advantage in the race to find the right people with the right skills at the right time, Canadian mining companies may wish to promote mining communities as destinations of choice for newly arriving immigrants who choose to live and work there. Mining communities can work together with local mining sector employers to attract immigrants by citing not only enhanced living conditions such as proximity to the great outdoors, friendly neighbours, affordable housing, but also emphasizing faster achievement of income parity with other Canadians and official language acquisition as benefits to working in the sector.

Barbara Kirby is the director of Labour Market Intelligence and Workforce Development at the Mining Industry Human Resources Council. She has over 20 years experience working within Canada and internationally, with an emphasis on linking industry with education and technical training programs.

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