Dec '09/Jan '10

HR Outlook

The time to act is now: Securing manpower in an aging industry

By S. Polowin

The Mining Association of Canada reports that between October 2008 and August 2009, more than 30 mines suspended operations. Companies involved in non-metallic mineral and/or fabricated mineral production have generally operated at around two-thirds of capacity. Between October 2008 and October 2009, the mining, oil and gas extraction support industry shed almost 20,000 employees, representing more than 20 per cent of its workforce. Despite this unfortunate situation, it is important to note that the decline in mining is the result of a cyclical downturn in a market that is fundamentally sound, and not indicative of a structural problem.

Many of the world’s industrialized nations have implemented large-scale fiscal stimulus packages in order to propel their economies out of recession. The more coordinated these initiatives are, the greater the expansionary effect will be on the global economy and the more the mining industry will benefit. In Canada, the federal government has pledged to inject nearly $30 billion into infrastructure projects in 2009 and 2010, while other levels of government are expected to contribute an estimated $9 billion to the effort.

Increased credit flows and the multiplier effects of the fiscal stimuli are beginning to work their way through the economic system. Some positive economic signs have already begun to emerge. Consumer spending, which comprises about two-thirds of domestic economic activity, has increased in the past few months. According to Manpower Canada’s Employment Outlook Survey for the fourth quarter of 2009, domestic mining companies feel more optimistic about their economic prospects then at any time in the past year. As well, organizations such as the Conference Board of Canada and the Bank of Canada, anticipate that the U.S. and Canadian economies will expand by around two and three per cent, respectively, in 2010. This bodes well for laid-off workers and potential entrants to the mining sector.

The average Canadian miner is close to 45 years of age and 40 per cent of the mining workforce will be eligible to retire by 2014. Mining companies will need to intensify their efforts in employee retention, attraction, leadership development, skills training and succession planning in order to be better-equipped to exploit the commercial opportunities that emerge once the economy recovers. Greater cooperation between governments, industry, academia, Aboriginal peoples and other stakeholders will also be integral to addressing the sector’s training, mobility and immigration requirements.

MiHR monitors and addresses human resource challenges facing the mining industry. One of our key initiatives is the Mining Industry Workforce Information Network (MIWIN), launched in 2007. Its main goal is to provide accurate and timely labour market information to the mining industry and its stakeholders. Its chief feature is the ability to forecast future hiring requirements in the sector, by occupation.

The forecast model covers all phases of the mining cycle, including exploration, extraction and primary processing. It generates hiring forecasts for a range of different hypothetical scenarios — depending on whether the economy is projected to expand, contract or remain static over the forecast period. To date, MIWIN forecasts have been produced for British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario. The research conducted to support these studies shows that mining sector employment is much more volatile than is the case in most other sectors of the Canadian economy. Such employment is highly dependent on the level of international minerals and metals prices, which are subject to wide fluctuations.

In October 2009, MiHR began developing a pan-Canada labour market forecasting model. Since it will reflect the unique commodity mix of each province and territory, its employment projections will be regionally differentiated. Extensive primary and secondary research will be carried out to develop the model. For example, the project will include a survey of 20 to 30 large-scale mining employers in Canada, in order to elicit information about the occupational structure of the workforce, retirement projections and other parameters that will impact future hiring needs. The study will culminate in a detailed research report that outlines the implications of the forecasts for key mining industry stakeholders.

Ultimately, the national MIWIN system will include a web-based query function, which will enable users to generate custom hiring forecasts, based on selected criteria such as geographic region and expected economic conditions. This capability will greatly enhance our ability to provide relevant and useful labour market information to our stakeholders. It will also provide the empirical foundation necessary to support industry efforts in areas such as attraction, retention, worker mobility and transition. Participation in MIWIN studies is voluntary; however, the greater the contributions, the better the information that can be provided.

Sheldon Polowin, program manager, research and labour market information at MiHR, is responsible for supporting the development of MIWIN.

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