Mining for new graduate hires

Lack of candidates, economic slowdown affect campus recruitment

Campus recruitment is a competitive gig. This is especially true in the mining sector because there are so few students graduating from mining engineering programs, according to Katie Fines, campus recruitment manager for mining giant Vale Inco in Toronto.

A typical chemical engineering graduating class will have several hundred students, but the mining engineering program at Dalhousie University in Halifax has just 10 and the program at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., has only 30, she said.

With an expected shortage of 70,000 workers in the mining industry over the next 10 years, according to a new report by Ernst & Young, these numbers could be disastrous for mining firms yet a windfall for graduates.

“There’s not very many of them and they know that the ball is in their court,” said Fines.

This power imbalance was seen in job-offer acceptance rates found in a survey from the Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers (CACEE), Campus Hire Salary Survey 2008.

The survey of 200 corporations across Canada found the average job-offer acceptance rate across all industries was 82 per cent, but it was just 59 per cent for mining job offers, which led to 40 per cent of mining companies not being able to fill all vacancies.

It’s not that mining engineers are walking away from the industry, it’s that most of them have multiple offers so when they accept one, they’re usually turning down four or five others, said Fines.

To compete, all employers need to be more innovative with campus recruitment, said Anne Markey, executive director of CACEE.

“A lot of employers that do really good work with recruitment on campus really get involved directly with the students in the faculty or school,” said Markey.

One critical component of attracting students at campus events is the right staff, said Markey. Students want to meet recent grads they can relate to as well as people in authority, such as the vice-president of operations, she said.

“For the information sessions, if you’re serious about attracting the right technical staff that you need, then have the head of your operations there. If you’re after marketing students, have your vice-president of marketing there to really be able to talk about what it is that they do,” said Markey. “That shows the company is serious about recruitment and about getting the best of the best if their staff are committing their time.”

While a senior executive probably won’t be able to attend day-long career fairs, newly hired recent grads should definitely attend. And, as virtual career fairs gain popularity, senior executives could interact with students over web cams or through a video presentation, she said.

Vale Inco, which has mines in Sudbury, Ont., Thompson, Man., and Voisey’s Bay, Nfld., held 12 information sessions and attended 12 career fairs at universities across the country this fall in an attempt to woo the limited few to the company’s programs for engineers and geologists in training.

Two recent hires from these programs attended, as well as a hiring manager and another employee who works with the trainees, said Fines.

The sessions and fairs are a way to build the Vale Inco brand among students and approach recruitment in a more uniform way. Fines’ role didn’t exist last year so individual operations recruited for their specific needs, meaning there was no co-ordinated approach, she said.

The sessions also gave the firm a better idea of what candidates were looking for, including competitive base pay, perks and international experience.

One of the most common questions “was the likelihood of international experience early in their career,” said Fines.

From those events, Vale Inco invited 80 students to attend one of two weekend selection events in Toronto. This allowed the firm to assess a large number of students quickly and gave the students the chance to see if Vale Inco was a good fit.

“Employees also get a better look at the candidates as well,” she said. The firm then extended offers to the top candidates who are invited to tour the mining site at which they would be working before making a decision.

Recruitment expected to slow

The CACEE survey, conducted before the stock markets took a nose dive in September and October, found 47 per cent of employers were already planning to reduce full-time recruitment in 2009.

With the economic slowdown and the credit crisis south of the border, CACEE is anticipating significant drops in recruitment for investment banking and financial services.

Alberta and Ontario dominated the recruitment scene in 2008. And while they will again be major players next year, recruitment growth is expected to come from Manitoba and Saskatchewan, said Markey.

While some financial firms might decrease hiring for 2009, Manulife Financial in Toronto is hiring slightly more graduates this year, said Jennifer Ricci, assistant vice-president of global recruitment strategies.

Last year, it hired about 100 graduates from actuarial, science, finance and IT and it could exceed that number this year, said Ricci.

The firm focuses on schools in Ontario, especially those in the Waterloo region where most of its employees work, but also recruits across the country.

“Building a very strong relationship with both the career centres and some of the faculties, as well as enlisting returning students or some co-op students as ambassadors, we find that works really, really well for us. Students like to relate to other students,” said Ricci.

The report set some useful benchmarks for employers, said Markey. It found the median cost per graduate hire is $5,150, the average starting salary is $48,885 and, on average, 97 per cent of new graduates remain with their first employer for more than one year.

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