March/April 2012

HR Outlook

Workplace diversity: growing the talent pool for the mining industry

By Ryan Montpellier

The pending retirement of the baby-boom generation, difficulties in attracting and engaging youth, and an under-representation of diverse groups, paint a clear picture of the challenges Canada’s mining industry will face in the coming decade.

While the industry has made tremendous strides in addressing these issues, finding experienced and skilled workers is becoming more difficult, and competition across sectors of the economy is swelling, according to the Mining Industry Human Resources (MiHR) Council’s latest report, Canadian Mining Industry Employment and Hiring Forecasts 2011.

The most pessimistic forecast predicts half of the mining workforce will be eligible to retire by 2021, creating a deficit of 75,000 replacement workers. A period of relative stability will see that number balloon to 112,000.

MiHR has developed a number of resources, such as Mining for DiversityMastering Aboriginal Inclusion in Mining and the Take Action for Diversity Report, to help mining companies attract and retain non-traditional sources of talent that have previously been under-represented in mining. MiHR Innovate and the Take Action for Diversity Network are both examples of communities of practice that foster knowledge sharing among mining HR professionals from across Canada. The Network’s focus is on implementing inclusion and diversity strategies, while MiHR Innovate concentrates on work environment and culture, learning and development compensation, rewards, recognition and company reputation.

The following is an example of an innovative approach to workplace diversity, as submitted to MiHR Innovate by Baja Mining Corp., for the benefit of other organizations facing similar issues.

Baja is a Vancouver-based mining company that is currently transforming into a producer. Baja and a consortium of Korean companies own the Boleo project, a large polymetallic property with near-term production and a long mine life, located in Baja California Sur, Mexico.

In 2010, when Baja started recruitment activities, talent requirement needs were identified, and profiles emphasizing technical and soft skills were created. Due to the international location of the project, profiles included candidates with previous international experience, exposure to Latin American cultures and fluency in Spanish.

When recruiting for these positions, says Baja’s human resources director, Maria-Luisa Sinclair, HR faced the predicament of recruiting for either technical or soft skills. Because attracting seasoned experts in each area was a priority, technical skills prevailed. To fill in the soft skills gap, Baja’s HR team designed and implemented an Intercultural Sensitivity Program to give employees the tools they needed to effectively adapt to the new cultures they would be exposed to. “A lack of cultural awareness can lead to costly delays, misunderstandings and, often, personal frustration on the part of the communicators,” Sinclair points out.

Training in intercultural communication assists businesses and individuals in achieving their goals in negotiation, decision-making, strategic planning and collaboration as successful teams. It addresses perceptions, cultural profiles, contrasts and differences, and it provides insight into how these can be better managed to ensure positive results.

Baja’s intercultural training is facilitated in two-day sessions. On the first day, participants are introduced to cross-cultural research and theory. The next day, they receive a personalized report and are guided through its contents to learn how they interact with individuals from different cultures and how to modify their interactions to become more successful.

To date, Baja has delivered three workshops: two at its site in Santa Rosalia, Baja California Sur, Mexico, and one at its Vancouver office. According to Sinclair, the response from employees has been positive. “The program was well-received,” she says. “It generated quite a bit of exchange among participants, as well as a willingness to learn. The majority of participants agreed that the session was of interest and relevant to their work.”

Sinclair says Baja is confident that this initiative will provide attendants with a better understanding of their own behaviours within different cultural settings. It will also show them how adapting behaviours can help them become better communicators and more efficient in their roles in foreign locations.

To view or contribute to the MiHR Innovate collection, visit To access MiHR’s publications, visit or email

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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