August 2012

HR Outlook

Collaborative approach key to filling industry talent gap

By Martha Roberts

For the past several years, the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) has provided the mining industry with annual hiring requirements forecasts. The latest instalment (2011) projects the need to hire upwards of 100,000 workers over a 10-year horizon. The upcoming 2012 national mining labour market report continues to paint a picture of larger future hiring needs, an ageing workforce, a wave of retirements, and challenges in attracting and engaging key talent groups. The looming labour and skills shortage remains a top priority for mining companies in Canada. It is widely accepted and understood that we are going to need people – but that is only part of the story.

Where are all these workers going to come from? MiHR’s 2012 mining labour market outlook addresses this question head on by providing a new forecast of available talent. Gaps are then identified and analyzed by comparing the industry’s projected hiring requirements to available talent for each occupation, revealing some interesting patterns.

The nature of the gaps and the approach to filling them differs among occupations. For example, production roles may have a large group of potential workers available, but mining also faces stiffer competition with other industries to attract a greater proportion of those workers. For some niche occupations, there may not be enough workers, period, so the industry must work with education and training providers and/or immigration to ensure enough people choose mining careers, and are trained and ready to enter the workforce. Given the long planning horizon of these solutions, it is important to immediately start laying the groundwork to fill these gaps.

Our quest for new talent must also consider a host of other factors, including skill requirements, education and training, credentials, mobility, work experience and safety awareness. New entrants to the labour market come from a variety of places, equipped with a variety of skills, competencies and experiences. Many new labour market participants leave schools or graduate and start looking for work; others immigrate; some relocate or travel from province to province; and still others re-enter the labour force after a temporary leave. Therefore, the sources of new talent can differ for each occupation.

That said, mining is not the only sector aware of pending labour shortages, nor is it the only sector that is striving to increase its share of a diminishing labour pool. To get ahead of the competition, we will need a game-changing strategy to address the talent gaps we face.

Among the strategies we are exploring at MiHR is counter-cyclical workforce planning – an approach that is meant to transform long-term people planning and to reduce reactionary workforce adjustments based on economic conditions.

To achieve this, MiHR is conducting research to better understand patterns of employer behavior in downturn, recovery and boom phases of the economic cycle. In-depth analysis of mining’s workforce adjustments and workforce planning strategies in mining will form the foundation of an industry strategy to reduce employment volatility and proactively manage employment during cyclical economic trends.

Other possibilities to address talent gaps centre on mobility and skills recognition – key factors that spurred the development of MiHR’s Canadian Mining Certification Program, which certifies mining workers in previously unrecognized occupations, such as underground miner, minerals processing operator, surface miner and diamond driller, against a national standard – recognizing skills and competencies across provincial borders.

Continued strategic efforts to strengthen workforce diversity are also key to filling the gaps. MiHR recommends coordinated initiatives and provides resources to increase representation of women and new Canadians, to improve opportunities for Aboriginal workers and to attract young people to the sector.

Success will require a coordinated, cooperative, industry-wide approach. We will find ways to fill the gaps, so long as we continue to explore our options together.


As director of research, Martha Roberts is responsible for enhancing the labour market information available to mining and mineral exploration stakeholders and investigating the short- and long-term human resources issues facing the industry. Martha holds her PhD in Psychology from the University of Waterloo and has won several awards for her research.

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