June/July 2010

Teck moulds its new leaders

Development from within pays dividends

By S. Solomon

When you are looking to hire new managers, you have two options: hire from the outside or hire from within. Teck Resources Limited has elected to take the latter route as much as possible.

“There’s an advantage to working with people who are familiar with our vision, our priorities, our strategy and who have experience in our business,” says Patricia Dillon, Teck’s director of employee communications and engagement.

Teck, like other mining companies, recently found itself facing two crucial human resources issues. First, many management positions are currently filled by employees nearing retirement age, and second, an industry-wide downturn a decade ago pushed a number of mining workers into other industries, creating a generation gap that has left relatively few 40-year-olds in line to take over those management positions.

Recognizing the need created by those factors, Teck elected to provide its current employees with specialized training so that they could one day fill the leadership posts from within the company. And so Teck’s ambitious development programs were initiated.

Emerging leaders

In 2007, Teck created its Emerging Leader Program (ELP) to train employees in management practices and leadership, and to teach them about the company’s operations. Employees are selected for the course from all divisions of the company — from the pits to the corporate offices — based on recommendations by their supervisors. The program has graduated a total of 29 employees since its inception. One such employee, Andrew Davies, who holds a PhD in geology, was a senior technical expert in Teck’s North American mineral exploration division when he was selected to be part of the first Emerging Leaders class.

After only a month into the program, Davies was thrust into a leadership role  and promoted to general manager of exploration — a job on the commercial side of the company rather than the technical one to which he had become accustomed. “The ELP process was kind of a live training ground,” he says.

The program brings a group of workers together for five different learning modules over the course of a year. “Within the modules, there were lots of 30-minute brainstorming exercises in small groups,” says Davies. “And there was assigned reading prior to each session that tried to get you to do some strategic thinking. It was about how you go from being a technical specialist to being in a broader role with greater complexity and depth, thinking about bigger strategic implications.”

Others in Davies’s ELP cohort graduated to senior management positions at Teck as well. Two became general managers of entire mines, one is now a vice-president of the company, and others are leading initiatives in different areas of Teck’s operations. Last year, for example, a group of ELP graduates were tasked with performing an in-depth review of the company’s sustainability practices. Teck’s new Sustainability Working Group, of which Davies is a member, grew out of that review. “They look at us, in a way, as potential change agents in the organization,” he explains. “We have studied the challenges of the organization, and we have built a tremendous amount of vertical integration.”

The fact that Teck put together a program as forward-thinking as ELP is a testament to the company’s commitment to developing its employees, says Davies. “It’s a powerful retention and development tool,” he adds. “It was a pretty profound experience. It opened my eyes to potential and opportunities that I never thought were in me, but others saw in me. It changed me, and I owe Teck
a lot.”

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