March/April 2013

HR Outlook

Challenging perceptions: technology and the mature worker

By Ziad Saab

Introducing new technology in the workplace poses a learning challenge for all workers. Employers, however, are particularly concerned with how it affects mature mining workers who have become accustomed to a certain way of operating over the course of their careers. According to Mature Workers in Alberta and British Columbia: Understanding the Issues and Opportunities, “Employers may be reluctant to look at initiatives to attract or retain mature workers because of unfounded concerns about the willingness of mature workers to learn new skills and new technologies and practices.” However, research suggests that this may be a perpetuated myth.

Staying Ahead of the Curve: The AARP Work and Career Study reveals that “on-the-job training” and the “opportunity to learn something new” are two aspects that mature workers look for in a job.

This sentiment was echoed by participants in MiHR’s recent studies, Managing the Skills Shortage: Technology and the Canadian Miner; and X, Y, Boom:Managing Mining’s Multigenerational Workforce.

Data reveal that a quarter of mature workers surveyed see working with new technology as a major source of job satisfaction, and that they would benefit the most from the improved efficiency and the reduction in manual labour stemming from these advances. The remote operation of machinery, for example, means that in some cases, miners are no longer required to be in the same physical location as the heavy equipment they operate. The adoption of new technologies like driverless haul trucks could make work less physically taxing as well as safer and more efficient for mature workers.

New ways of working made possible by technological advances provide mature workers with a challenge that keeps them intrigued and engaged. Since job satisfaction is positively impacted by training workers on new technology, employers should invest in this as part of their worker retention strategy. Retention is key because one of the most daunting challenges facing the industry is the loss of knowledge and experience that occurs when older workers retire.

MIHR’s 2010 National Employer Survey indicates that, on average, more than half of the mining workforce is aged 45 or older, with a third of the mining workforce eligible to retire by 2015 and around half of the workforce by 2020. The retention of these workers is essential for the mining industry; the alternative is to let a wealth of knowledge and experience walk out the door in the next 10 years, instead of transferring it to new entrants to the workforce. The introduction of new technology and its role in the retention of mature workers could be instrumental in addressing skills shortages in the Canadian mining industry.

In addition, both the retention of older workers and adoption of new technologies enable mentoring relationships that are needed for new, younger workers seeking to develop their skills and abilities. MiHR’s Virtual MineMentor program is a prime example of how technology can foster knowledge transfer between mature workers and the next generation of mining employees. The program connects participants through email, video conferencing, instant messaging and other virtual forms of communication. Virtual mentoring is time-efficient, requiring only one to two hours per week, while providing a number of benefits to both parties.

There will be a need for ongoing research into the role technology plays in retaining mature workers, and, in turn, how it can affect the sharing of knowledge and experience with the new generation of workers. However, the time has come to challenge past perceptions that mature workers are reluctant to adapt to new and innovative technologies that ultimately make their jobs safer and less physically demanding.

To learn more about MiHR’s Virtual MineMentor program, contact Ziad Saab at zsaab@mihr.ca.


As communications coordinator, Ziad Saab is responsible for supporting MiHR’s various communication initiatives while also contributing to event planning and promotion. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Ottawa, majoring in communications with a minor in political science. He also completed a master’s degree in communications from the University of Ottawa, specializing in media studies.

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