August 2009


The shifting face of the new economy and the mining industry

By K. Lendsay

Some may think it bold to create a new Aboriginal recruitment, retention and advancement tool (Mastering Aboriginal Inclusion in Mining) in the midst of an economic downturn. But the fact is that economic peaks and valleys notwithstanding, as one of the world’s largest exporters of minerals, metals and diamonds, Canada’s mining sector faces a serious skills shortage in the next decade.

A 2007 study by MiHR suggests that the mining industry could lose up to 40 per cent of the existing workforce in the next ten years, with each retiring worker taking away an average of 21 years of mining sector experience. The largest percentage of workers planning to retire within the next ten years is in the skilled trades group.

This spring, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) released a report showing that by 2016, more people will be leaving Canada’s workforce than entering it. That is a serious threat to our economy — the most serious we will face over the next 50 years, according to AIMS economist Brian Crowley.

Historically, Canada has relied heavily on immigration to meet skills shortages and keep the economy growing. This is due partly to the country’s aging population and low average birth rate. Canada’s Aboriginal population, however, is growing at six times the rate of its non-Aboriginal population.

Aboriginal people are a key resource for mining, and mining is a key industry for many Aboriginal communities that are located within 200 kilometres of operating mines and exploration properties across Canada. Companies such as Vale Inco, Cameco and De Beers Canada have shown that it is possible to achieve high degrees of Aboriginal recruitment, retention and advancement.

We also know that there is chronic unemployment in Aboriginal communities, and that as the population continues to grow, it’s likely to get much worse unless we do something about it. A study released in May of 2009 by The Centre for the Study of Living Standards found that if Aboriginal people reach the same education and social well-being levels as non-Aboriginal Canadians, combined fiscal savings and increased tax revenues would climb to an estimated $115 billion over the 2006 to 2026 period, and Canada would enjoy an estimated $401 billion cumulative effect on our Gross Domestic Product. This is a business case for Aboriginal inclusion that we cannot afford to ignore any longer.

Mining managers and executives know that they need to engage the Aboriginal workforce in order to compete over the long term. We live in transformative times. Our new economy is increasingly driven by the green and technology industries. Corporations are now confronted with many of the challenges that Aboriginal people have learned to master over thousands of years — ensuring environment sustainability at the foundation of any enterprise; building consensus on important decisions; regarding managers as the focal points of a work team’s energies, rather than an instrument of control over them; and finally, making short-term decisions that net positive long-term outcomes.

The fact that modern managers must show increasing concern for the very issues that Aboriginal communities have long ago learned to deal with suggests yet another dimension of the business case for Aboriginal inclusion — uniting organizational needs and Aboriginal talent.

Mastering Aboriginal Inclusion in Mining modules and complementary workshops, built in partnership with the Aboriginal Human Resource Council (AHRC) and the Mining Industry Human Resources Council, are designed to help mining employers discover their individual business cases for inclusion, learn about proven tools for recruitment, retention and advancement, and climb the seven-stage inclusion continuum. The expanded research of the Mastering Aboriginal Inclusion in Mining module is specifically designed to help mining companies create inclusive workplaces that facilitate the recruitment, retention and advancement of Aboriginal workers.

AHRC offers a lineup of products and services (national Aboriginal job board, conferences, workshops, forums and publications) that reflect the combined knowledge and skills of many of the nation’s leading authorities in Aboriginal career development. Mastering Aboriginal Inclusion in Mining modules and workshops can be purchased online at

Kelly Lendsay is the president and CEO of the Aboriginal Human Resource Council.
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