Sept/Oct 2010

HR Outlook

Workplace diversity: a core value at Suncor Energy

By Lindsay Forcellini


A female heavy hauler welder at work at Suncor’s oil sands site in Fort McMurray, Alberta  | Photo courtesy of Suncor Energy

An increasingly competitive labour market is affecting all industry sectors, but particularly those that rely on skilled trades and highly educated professionals. The Canadian mining industry, with its strong commodity market and current growth projections, is particularly vulnerable to labour shortages.

In addition, the industry is facing a demographic challenge; an aging population means that in the next ten years alone, 40 per cent of the mining workforce will be eligible for retirement, driving the need for approximately 100,000 new workers by 2020, according to MiHR’s latest labour market information report released in August. In Canada’s oil sands alone, approximately 13,000 additional workers will be required by the producers by 2020, says Anne Marie Toutant, vice-president, mining operations for Suncor Energy, located in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Diversity is good business

Diversity is an integral component of the HR solution and “people” falls under one of Suncor’s four areas of operational excellence. “People are at the heart of each piece of equipment you operate, so for us, having an engaged, competent and effective team of people is really important,” Toutant explains. Attracting and retaining non-traditional sources of talent that have previously been under-represented in mining is critical to ensure the necessary people and skills are available in the short and longer term for the sustainability of the industry.

But for Toutant, addressing the HR challenge is merely one advantage of building a diverse workforce. “We believe that better business decisions are made when a team is comprised of people who come from different backgrounds, have different educational training and different problem-solving techniques,” affirms Toutant. “With that kind of diversity, you bring a unique view of the challenges and a more thorough and robust approach to finding solutions.”

Revitalizing the workforce

There are many opportunities to revitalize the workforce and diversify the potential talent pool. A number of groups that are currently underrepresented in the mining industry, yet available in the general labour force, include women, youth, new Canadians, Aboriginal Peoples and workers from comparable industries that have experienced a downturn. Suncor is making strides in workplace diversity. It recruits from seven to eight universities across Canada to tap into the full spectrum of talent students can offer.

About eight per cent of Suncor’s mining workforce self-identifies as Aboriginal, which is slightly higher than the industry average of 6.5 per cent. Toutant says the company also encourages an open dialogue with Aboriginal communities by inviting elders to visit the mine site to share their knowledge about the local environment and cultural practices.

The company is a strong supporter of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, which provides scholarships and bursaries to help Aboriginal Peoples pursue further education. It also supports Women Building Futures, a pre-trades program for under-employed or unemployed women, 20 to 40 per cent of which are Aboriginal. This program provides an entry skill set for candidates to enroll in an apprenticeship program.

Diversity is an important factor at all levels of an organization and Suncor is creating opportunities for female leaders to network, explains Toutant. At its oil sands mining operations, women make up about 22 per cent of the professional or staff positions and 12.4 per cent of the total workforce. Sixty women hold management or senior management positions at the oil sands site. Partnering with the Suncor Energy Foundation, Toutant and Shelley Powell, vice-president, extraction operations, invited female leaders to participate in the Famous 5 Speaker Series, allowing them to share their experiences and providing opportunities for them to partner together.

A core value

Enhancing workplace diversity offers many benefits, but it can be challenging. Toutant’s advice: Don’t get caught up in the numbers. “It’s important to know where you are and be focused on building towards a new future, but our aim is to get the best person for the job all of the time,” Toutant explains. “If you hold [diversity] as a core value, you have fewer pitfalls.”

MiHR is committed to supporting the industry’s ability to actively engage non-traditional sources of labour, and its newly funded diversity project is poised to tackle this challenge and offer industry-wide benefits.

 Lindsay Forcellini
As marketing and communications coordinator, Lindsay Forcellini is responsible for supporting MiHR’s communications and online media initiatives, and coordinating the production of marketing and communications materials. Formerly a writer for Natural Resources Canada, she holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Carleton University.

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