May 2011

HR Outlook

Canada is not alone: Skills shortage a global issue in mining

By Ryan Montpellier


Mining companies are facing a generation gap between workers on the cusp of retirement and those only just beginning their careers | Photo courtesy of MiHR

An increasingly competitive labour market is affecting a number of 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 – a challenging issue that has climbed the risk agenda from sixth place in 2009 to second in 2010 in Ernst & Young’s annual report, “Business Risks Facing Mining and Metals.”

It is no secret that Canada’s mining industry is facing a demographic challenge; an aging population means that in the next five years alone, one-third of the mining workforce will be eligible for retirement, driving the need for approximately 100,000 new workers by 2020, according to the Mining Industry Human Resources (MiHR) Council’s latest labour market information report, “Canadian Mining Industry Employment and Hiring Forecasts 2010.”

Facing the facts

Canada is not alone. Other countries are feeling the same crunch and are also struggling to find skilled workers. In Australia, the National Resources Sector Employment Taskforce published a report in July 2010 highlighting the challenge in that country. The Taskforce estimated that there will be 61,500 new jobs created by 2015 in addition to a turnover rate of around 10 per cent per year. In South Africa, executive research firm Landelhani found the average age of mining professionals in the country was 50 to 55. In the United States, the Society of Mining Engineers discovered that over 58 per cent of industry members were already over the age of 50 back in 2005.1

Impacting productivity

Rising global demand for mining talent will adversely impact development and productivity and hurt mining companies on cost and efficiency of existing operations. Countries undergoing rapid economic development, such as China and India, will continue to need the raw materials that others like Canada, Australia or South Africa provide; however, this potential is threatened by the looming labour shortages.

These growth prospects have helped mining companies to attract more young workers to the industry, in addition to developing partnerships with educational institutions and encouraging alternative and more flexible employment structures. However, these efforts are not enough to offset the gap between workers on the cusp of retirement and those only just beginning their careers; there is a shortage of people in between.2

Innovative solutions

MiHR is committed to developing solutions to help the Canadian mining industry address these challenges and recommends a two-pronged approach: industry must first maximize and make the best use of all available sources of labour through workplace diversity; and second, increase its productivity through investments in training and skills development, coupled with improving the foundation for innovation and technological advances.

Attracting and retaining non-traditional sources of talent that have previously been underrepresented in mining is critical to ensure that the necessary people and skills are available in the short and longer term for the sustainability of the industry. 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.

A community of support

Sometimes it is not enough to identify a solution, like workplace diversity. Employers want to know how to implement these solutions and they want real, concrete examples. Canadian mining companies are making strides in developing more innovative solutions to these complex issues, but often we do not hear about them. Our peers in other mining companies are our most valuable resources, and MiHR’s latest initiative, MiHR Innovate, is an online compendium of innovative HR practices dedicated to helping employers exchange and develop new and tailored innovative solutions to their company’s HR challenges.

HR practices from over a dozen mining companies have been submitted and are categorized in four key areas: diversity and inclusion; skills, training and employee development; compensation and wellness; and social responsibility. Practices include any type of initiative that has had an impact on an organization and its employees. The inaugural round of submissions is now available at

1 Deloitte’s Tracking the trends 2011: The top 10 issues mining companies will face in the coming year
2 Ibid.

Ryan Montpellier is the executive director of MiHR. Currently, he sits on a number of boards and provincial committees dealing with labour shortages in the mining sector.

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