March/April 2014

HR Outlook

Canada’s mining HR practices – a new export?

By Ryan Montpellier

As three-quarters of the world’s mining companies are headquartered in Canada, the spotlight on their international practices cannot be avoided, and the demand to uphold domestic standards abroad is growing. An increasing focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) is leading to further collaboration and partnerships between the mining industry and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide, and is demonstrating the positive impact that mining can have around the globe. Canadian and foreign mining companies and organizations can build on the innovative work and HR best practices that are in place in Canada to help manage the risks of operating in complex and challenging environments globally.

For employers looking to improve their HR practices abroad, our most recent consultations in Colombia have shown that the basis for any strategy must be one of collaboration between industry, training organizations, international developmental organizations, and governments. Mining has been declared one of the five engines of economic growth for Colombia, and both the Colombian and Canadian governments recognize the challenges of recruiting and developing a workforce with the technical skills to support commercial mining activity. Furthermore, up until now, Colombia’s gold mining sector has been small scale, with large numbers of artisanal miners who require additional training related to safety, essential skills and environmental practices. When looking to develop programs that would produce long-term solutions to these skills development issues, Colombians view Canadian experience and practices in engaging local Aboriginal Peoples as a starting point, due to the years of accumulated knowledge, experience and programs already developed.

Over the last five years in Canada, we have seen a growing commitment to training, standardization and certification that has spurred the creation of national skills development and recognition programs like Mining Essentials: A Work Readiness Training Program for Aboriginal Peoples. In developing Mining Essentials, MiHR, in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations, has amassed significant experience and expertise in crafting strategies and partnerships between industry, aboriginal groups and educators. The Mining Essentials training program can provide a template for countries like Colombia that wish to engage with and transition traditional communities and artisanal mining workers to industrial mining activities.

When embarking on the design of a new program, in Canada or abroad, a thorough needs assessment with local training organizations, employers, international developmental organizations, government and the communities forms the building blocks of the strategy and identifies further opportunities. This ensures programs, when developed, are culturally centred, rich with industry-relevant content, and provide the essential skills, attitudes and work readiness needed for meaningful employment opportunities in the mining sector.

Although this might sound simple, it is important to remember that this is not a one-size-fits-all solution. In Canada, we quickly recognized that our Mining Essentials program needed alternative Métis and Inuit activity options to meet the cultural complexities of different aboriginal populations. The curriculum also had to be customized for the requirements of the local mine site and to meet any regional regulations. It is essential to go beyond the basics and consider the impact on family welfare and how the training program could help a community become more stable and better provide for their families in the future. A company must decide what the legacy of its operation will be.

Companies committed to continuing the development of their employees also have solid Canadian standards as a starting point. Currently there are four National Occupational Standards for the mining sector: Underground Miner, Minerals Processing Operator, Surface Miner and Diamond Driller. These standards can be used by companies and training organizations as the basis to develop occupation-specific training programs that meet or exceed the needs of industry. In Canada, these standards are the basis for worker certification. This concept would provide employers abroad with a way of recognizing and verifying the skills and experience of a new worker. By capturing the skills, training and experience of a worker through certification, all employers can capitalize on the investment made by the country and industry, and later assist with issues like recruitment, training, mobility and foreign credential recognition.

To date, MiHR has been asked for its guidance in emerging markets like Chile, Senegal, Tanzania, and Colombia. In both Chile and Africa, MiHR hosted a series of workshops and information sessions with local governments, public training institutions and mining companies to help them identify their labour market needs and guide them in the development of skills and workforce development solutions to meet the demand of new projects.

Introducing Canadian-made best practices, innovative HR strategies and programs can only serve to strengthen Canada’s reputation as a leader and strengthen our competitiveness internationally.

For more information on MiHR’s programs and our work abroad, please contact the Council.

Ryan Montpellier is the executive director of MiHR. He is a recognized expert and sought-after speaker on HR issues impacting the Canadian mining sector today.




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