Dec '13/Jan '14

HR Outlook

A guide for young professionals caught in a downturn

By Alicia Ferdinand

The ebbs and flows of the larger economy – and our industry’s susceptibility to them – continue to be great challenges. Our sector struggled through the first half of 2013, as commodity prices softened and access to financing tightened. Many exploration and mining companies quickly realigned their cost base within this new economic environment to stay competitive. Initially, the cost-containment programs included cutting back on capital expenditures, and some companies put exploration projects on hold, while others dropped assets, reduced production targets and, in many cases, began downsizing.

This downturn has seen a culling of our workforce across exploration and mining operations. Junior employees and recent graduates, often looking to land their first job, are experiencing the volatility of our industry for the first time. Many are now aware of the “Super Mining Cycle,” but few are aware of what they can do if they happen to find themselves looking for employment during a downturn.

My advice to young professionals is that even though you may not have control over a company’s hiring process, you do have control over everything leading up to those hiring decisions. What this current environment underscores is the need for young professionals to have a dedicated and proactive strategy. Use this period to acquire new skills, gain experience, or take on more responsibility, which will all look good on your resume.

Seize this opportunity to learn more about the industry if you are interested in pursuing a specific career path. For instance, research company projects, connect with experienced industry professionals, attend conferences, seminars or workshops, and take this time to understand what factors drive or affect mining globally.

It is also an opportunity, if you saved a little money, to do an advanced degree or an MBA. This may well increase your marketability and position you ahead of your peers.

One of the most important things to know is where to look for new opportunities. Many large mining companies have HR portals where potential candidates can post their resumes for future consideration. Online job boards can be found on the websites of CIM, PDAC and other professional associations. And though there are a number of ways to find employment opportunities, most jobs are filled from three major sources: 11 per cent through recruiters, 27 per cent through print advertising and job boards, and 45 per cent through networking, according to a recent Risk Management survey. With that in mind, young professionals need to make networking the focus of their search. Remember though that networking is not about meeting people to ask for a job. Rather, it is an ongoing process of relationship building. It can expose you to possibilities that you may not have considered and can also be the source of valuable technical and business information, industry advice or mentoring. Networking also enlarges your contact base, which provides you with the ability to get things done.

That is why students and young professionals must get involved if they have little or no industry experience or are looking for new career opportunities. There are many mineral and mining associations that offer free programs, reduced fees for unemployed individuals or just need volunteers.

If you are a student, there are several mining associations that provide guidance and leadership in establishing student groups or arrange for industry experts to present on campus. CIM offers a variety of student initiatives through its societies and branches, while PDAC provides opportunities to volunteer at its annual convention. The Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) offers many online resources along with a virtual mentoring program to connect students to industry members.

If you’re still finding your way in the industry, consider teaming up with a mentor who can help guide your way. Joining a CIM society or branch is one way to network with industry experts. There are also regular opportunities for individuals to volunteer with mining groups or committees like CIM societies and branches, or PDAC committees, Women in Mining branches, geological and engineering associations, and other regional groups. Many of these associations offer regular meetings, speaker presentations, discussion groups and panels, or social events that present opportunities to meet knowledgeable and experienced mining professionals.

In our industry, being unemployed does not mean there are no options. By taking an active role and being committed to riding out this downturn, there are ways you, as young professionals, can position yourselves for your next career opportunity.

Alicia_FerdinandAlicia Ferdinand, P. Geo, is the president of Proven Reserves, a consultancy and executive search group. In addition to her background in exploration and operational program management, she has developed and taught several industry courses. She is past-chair of the CIM Mineral & Economics Society and the current chair of the CIM Toronto Branch.

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