February 2012

HR Outlook

Knowledge is power

By Ryan Montpellier

Knowledge workers are crucial to the future prosperity of Canada’s mining and exploration industry. They provide the sector with organizational leadership, research and development, and drive innovation; however, despite their importance, knowledge workers are a scarce labour resource. When you consider that a significant proportion of this group is nearing retirement age, it is evident that the sector is facing a devastating loss of specialist knowledge in the next decade.

The Mining Industry Human Resources Council partnered with the Canada Mining Innovation Council (CMIC) to publish Making the Grade: Human Resources Challenges and Opportunities for Knowledge Workers in Canadian Mining. This study provides information currently lacking in the industry to foster a better understanding of knowledge workers and to enable industry to become more proactive in workforce planning.

Knowledge workers as innovators

Making the Grade defines knowledge workers as people who are highly educated, technologically savvy and engaged in work that leads to the creation of knowledge and innovation. Examples include: engineers, geoscientists, financial analysts, health and safety professionals, business professionals and management. According to the study, they provide the critical links between technological progress and economic growth.

Furthermore, knowledge workers are an integral part of the development and preservation of competitive and sustainable industries. In mining, both the global focus on leveraging technologies to gain a competitive advantage and the magnitude of social responsibility and environmental sustainability issues are making innovation more crucial. To ensure a knowledge-rich workforce, employers will need to adapt their recruitment, retention and succession-planning strategies to better suit the career aspirations of these highly skilled professionals.

Building strong relationships with post-secondary institutions is one way for companies to attract and retain knowledge workers. Support for students (co-op/apprenticeship programs) and for post-secondary research ensures that the research outputs and technological advancements are relevant and timely, resulting in innovations with a greater probability of becoming widely adopted.

Cameco, one of the world’s largest uranium producers, submitted the following practice to MiHR Innovate. The company is looking at new ways to strengthen the ties between academia and industry to attract and retain more knowledge workers and to expand their research and development capabilities and capacity.

In support of this objective, the Cameco Technology and Innovation group has established the Sabbatical Program for Academics, which gives researchers and scientists from universities the opportunity to conduct research at Cameco operations each year and collaborate with technical personnel at the company’s facilities.

Sean Junor, manager, workforce planning and talent acquisition at Cameco, says the program is directly linked to the company’s long-term strategy to significantly increase production by 2018. “We learn more about what is going on in the world of academia and researchers have the opportunity to apply their work in an industry setting,” he explains. “The benefits are twofold: the program broadens our attraction and potential recruitment net, and strengthens and/or develops the relationships we have with academic institutions.” Researchers spend up to one year in the program working on a problem of interest to both Cameco and the researcher, with an end goal of a portfolio of potential projects that the researcher will take back to the university.

Michael Murchie, director, Cameco Innovation and Technology Development – Research Centre, says the key to the program’s success is the dedicated time it allows a researcher to spend with the company. “You need time to establish a relationship,” he explains. “It’s about researchers getting to know our challenges and Cameco getting to know their capabilities.”

“This portfolio of focused project ideas creates a link for continued collaboration, the development of knowledge workers, the promotion of science and engineering, and the promotion of the mining industry,” says Engin Ozberk, vicepresident, Cameco Innovation and Technology, who is also the president and chair of the board of directors of CMIC.

Cameco has had four sabbatical researchers to date, two of whom are continuing to work with the company. Since the program is in its early stages, the main focus now is collaborating to grow uptake, explains Junor, as the program can accommodate up to 12 researchers at one time.

Making the Grade can be accessed at www.mihr.ca; to request a print copy, email info@mihr.ca. To view the complete MiHR Innovate collection, visit www.mihrinnovate.ca.

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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