Mining and exploration review north of the 60th parallel

The Forecast Calls For

Collaborative approach key to filling mining industry talent gap
By Martha Roberts, director of Research, Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR)

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Human resources challenges pose one of the greatest risks to the long term competitiveness of the Canadian mining industry. The latest annual Canadian Mining Industry Hiring Requirements and Available Talent Forecasts report released by the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) in fall 2012, paints a familiar picture – an ageing workforce and looming retirement of the baby boom generation, challenges in attracting and engaging youth, and underrepresentation and under-utilization of key diverse talent groups. While the industry has taken significant strides in addressing these issues, finding experienced and skilled workers is becoming more difficult, and competition for talent across all sectors of the economy is set to heat up as the labour market tightens.
MiHR’s latest report shows that employment in the Canadian mining industry is expected to rise slightly over the 10-year forecast period, which is an improved outlook from previous years’ reports. The shift in the employment outlook is fuelled by changing operating environments and the prospect of new mining activity over the forecast horizon, continuous gains in labour productivity, and new capabilities at MiHR for forecasting mineral exploration and oil sands mining employment.
Even with continued global economic uncertainty and a mood of caution blanketing the sector this past summer, MiHR’s analyses show that across Canada, employers’ hiring requirements over the long-term will continue to be considerable. Overall hiring requirements also include replacement requirements due to retirement and other separations. When replacement requirements are coupled with employment gains, the outlook for exploration and mining recruiters is sobering. People, already challenging to find in many situations, will become a precious commodity.
But, the projected needs only tell part of the story. It’s important to also ask, “where are all these workers going to come from?” MiHR’s 2012 outlook report addresses this question head-on by providing a new feature – forecasts 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.

A Closer Look at the Talent Gap
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 many of these workers have skills that apply to work in other industries, so mining faces competition from other sectors in attracting a greater proportion of these workers. For some niche occupations, there simply may not be enough workers, period. In these cases, the industry must work with education and training providers, and/or immigration, to ensure that enough people choose careers in mining and are trained and ready to enter the workforce. Given the long planning horizon of these solutions, it is important to start laying the groundwork to fill these gaps in the short term.

Our quest for new talent must also consider a host of other factors, including skills 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. Thus, the sources of new talent can differ for each occupation.

Custom Research: A Look at Regional Projections
In light of the labour challenge, demand for customized regional labour-market research has increased. Labour-market research projects have already been conducted in Saskatchewan, Ontario, and British Columbia and in fall 2012, MiHR will also be releasing an updated labour-market report for British Columbia, in partnership with the BC Mining HR Task Force (Mining, Exploration, Sand & Gravel). The council has also begun work on new forecasts for the Yukon, and five new districts in northern Ontario.

This latest report for British Columbia includes hiring requirements over a 10-year horizon and includes additional feature(s), such as a regional breakdown of forecasts and an industry specific analysis (separate forecasts for mining, exploration, and sand and gravel). It also includes a forecast of available talent in B.C. and a gap analysis of hiring requirements versus available talent. MiHR forecasts a need to hire between 13,000 and 20,000 workers in B.C. by 2022 – and gaps in available talent in key geosciences and labour roles.

The new research MiHR is currently conducting for the Yukon features updated forecasts and a detailed look at mineral exploration in the territory. This report, which is being developed in partnership with the Yukon Government and the Yukon Chamber of Mines, will include available talent forecasts and a gap analysis and is expected to be available in winter 2013.

Finally, MiHR is also working on forecasts for five new districts in northern Ontario, which will complement the council’s recent forecast conducted in the Thunder Bay district. Results from each project are expected in winter 2013. Each report will feature detailed analysis of the district, based on research conducted with district employers. Reports will include detailed hiring requirements forecasts and high level gap analysis of available talent in Ontario.

Solutions: A Collaborative Approach
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. While more partnerships and strategies are emerging on local or provincial levels with partners using this research to inform government lobbying, or to align education and training needs, for example, a shortage of this magnitude can only be addressed through an industry-wide collaborative strategy and cooperative efforts to ensure that the exploration and mining industry stays ahead of the competition and MiHR continues to be a catalyst in this regard.
For instance, a new project is underway on counter-cyclical workforce planning – an approach that is meant to transform long-term people planning and reduce reactionary workforce adjustments based on economic conditions.

Our main activities under this initiative include surveying industry to better understand patterns of employer behaviour in downturn, recovery, and boom phases of the economic cycle. In-depth analysis of mining’s workforce adjustments and workforce planning strategies 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 around 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. MiHR has developed several programs and resources to bolster industry’s efforts in this area. Explore for More, MiHR’s brand for career outreach initiatives, is now being adapted across Nunavut, where materials will be translated into both Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun. These career resources will be distributed across schools in the region to get students informed about career opportunities in the mining industry. The program has already been successfully adapted in British Columbia.

In addition, MiHR has developed and launched Mining Essentials, a pre-employment training program for Aboriginal peoples. The program teaches both the essential and work readiness skills that the mining industry requires to be considered for an entry-level position, helping mining companies and communities meet joint hiring and employment targets.
Success will require a coordinated, cooperative, industry-wide approach. We’ll find ways to fill the gaps, so long as we continue to explore our options together. Access the 2012 version of Canadian Mining Industry Employment and Hiring Forecasts at www.mihr.ca

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