Worker shortage on mining’s horizon

Study predicts nearly 40 per cent of the mining workforce will retire in the next decade
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/12/2005

Canada’s mining industry is facing an astounding worker shortage over the next 10 years, a study shows.

Mining will need up to 81,000 new workers to meet the needs of an industry that’s been growing at twice the rate of the Canadian economy since 2002. The study predicts nearly 40 per cent of the mining workforce will retire in the next decade.

“Eighty-thousand — that is a big number. It represents 100 per cent of today’s workforce,” said Paul Hebert, the executive director of the Mining Industry Training and Adjustment Council, the organization that conducted the study.

Not only will there be competition within the mining industry for skilled workers but mining will have to compete with other industries such as construction, oil and electricity.

Hebert said if Canada, one of the world’s largest exporter of minerals, metals and diamonds, wants to keep its position in the global mining industry, companies and governments will have to actively attract, train and retain highly skilled and educated employees. He said the biggest challenge facing the industry is getting past the traditional image of a miner toiling underground with a pick axe and a shovel.

“In fact, mining uses leading edge technology, a highly skilled and versatile workforce and it’s among the highest paying of all industrial sectors.”

Modern mining is more about robotics and other high-tech advances than it is about manually digging a hole in the ground. There are requirements for every kind of skilled trade worker and professional — including lawyers, health-care professionals and accountants.

Hebert said that once the industry gets this up-to-date image about mining out to young people, they can make informed career decisions.

One way the industry is trying to do this is by working with elementary school teachers who teach geo-science and environmental responsibility.

Hebert said he would also like to see mining companies develop closer relationships with high schools, trade schools and universities, especially through co-op placements and summer student programs. “They need to begin to forge the relationship with those individuals that will fill those jobs in the future.”

Companies like Teck Cominco Ltd. of Vancouver provide teachers with access to all the technical knowledge and expertise of the industry, making lessons more interesting and informing children about mining.

Patricia Dillon, manager of corporate relations at Teck Cominco, said the industry has to make sure that schools have the proper technology and equipment to train a highly skilled workforce. She added that it’s also important to understand the needs of workers fresh out of school. “You have to be looking at how your HR managing strategies are designed to meet their needs and interests.”

She said many young people want a broad work experience in a short amount of time. Employers need to keep changing the work environment so these young workers feel their personal and professional growth are being supported.

The industry also needs to retain older workers who are ready to retire. “That would be a huge loss of intellectual capital,” said Hebert.

He suggested that companies hold on to these workers for one or two years, give them more flexible work hours and have them mentor young employees.

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