August 2010

Human resources

Future prospects: Creative solutions a must to avoid the looming HR deficit

By M. Eisner

Brett Dickie fell into mining as a matter of chance. As a chemical engineering student at the University of Saskatchewan, Dickie knew nothing about mining until a summer job at Cameco opened his eyes to a whole new world.

“We don’t really have any knowledge of mining coming out of school because we are really focused on oil and gas,” says the 27-year-old, who is now an engineer-in-training with AMEC. “I took the Cameco job to explore my options, to see what’s in Saskatchewan and what is involved. It was a real eye-opener. I didn’t know it was such a big industry.”

The outlook

In 2006, the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) released “Prospecting the Future: Meeting Human Resources Challenges in the Canadian Minerals and Metals Industry.” The conclusion was simple: the future of the mining industry depended on finding enough qualified people to replace retiring workers in a steadily aging workforce.

Four years later, an update to that report, to be released by MiHR this September, indicates not much has improved. If anything, the problem has become more serious. And the challenge of tapping into the next generation of highly qualified professionals like Dickie is more vital than ever.

“The industry is absolutely facing a labour shortage, and it is more significant than we’d estimated in 2005,” explains MiHR executive director, Ryan Montpellier. “The forecast for 2010 to 2020 is that we will need more than 100,000 new workers, mainly due to workers retiring, so there is a very substantial challenge.” One avenue of recruitment was closed, at least temporarily, in June as Citizenship and Immigration Canada scratched mining engineers from its list of eligible skilled-worker visa applicants. The change reflects the short-term slackening of demand due to the recent downturn in the market.

Recent statistics indicate that more than half the cur- rent mining workforce is 45 years of age and over, with the average retirement age being 59, compared to 62 for other industries. This means 21 per cent of those currently employed will be eligible to retire in two years. “Those people will have to be replaced,” says Montpellier. Attracting enough qualified workers to fill those jobs is the challenge; the solution is in finding new ways to do so.

Getting the message out

Stories like Dickie’s resonate with Chuck Edwards, director of metallurgy for AMEC Americas Ltd., and have prompted him to take action. CIM’s president-elect is part of a team trying to introduce mining and mineral process- ing courses at the University of Saskatchewan.

“My own background is chemistry and chemical engineering,” says Edwards. “I didn’t give mining a 10-second thought until I went to work for Inco. I was looking for a job and Inco needed someone who understood enough about surface chemistry to do research on flotation, but it was a fluke. As an industry, we do not place enough effort on communicating with all the engineering disciplines to point out to them that there are many jobs in mining for their discipline.”

One solution, says Edwards, is to set up more CIM student chapters at universities and invite mining and minerals industry engineers from all disciplines to the meetings to speak with the students. This collaborative effort was successful in CIM’s recent attempt to generate interest in a student chapter at, the University of Saskatchewan.

“One hundred students came out from other areas of engineering,” he says. “We wanted them to know that there are jobs in the mining industry for them. The next step is to hold more meetings. CIM student chapters have fallen away and CIM has decided to re-invigorate and restart them.”

MiHR is also reaching out to engage young people. Through a web portal, visitors can access a mentoring pro- gram, a speaker’s bureau meant to connect mining professionals with curious audiences, as well as a Facebook page and YouTube channel with videos on mining careers. MiHR’s efforts, explains Montpellier, are not limited to the computer terminal: “We speak to career counselors and meet with educators to talk about modern mining.”

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