Mining industry needs 81,000 new workers in next decade

New study shows that the booming industry needs to step up its recruitment of new workers and retain those who are ready to retire

Canada’s mining industry is facing an astounding worker shortage over the next 10 years, a two-year-long study found.

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

“We had a lot of anecdotal information pointing to a looming shortage,” said Paul Hebert, the executive director of the Mining Industry Training and Adjustment Council (MITAC), the organization that conducted the study. “Eighty-thousand — that is a big number. It represents 100 per cent of today’s workforce.”

Not only will there be competition within the mining industry for skilled workers but mining will also 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 need 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 in Canada.”

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

Hebert said 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.

Companies like Teck Cominco Ltd., provide the teachers with access to all the technical knowledge and expertise of the industry, making the lessons more interesting and relevant and also showing young children exactly what mining is about.

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,” he said.

Patricia Dillon, manager of corporate relations at Teck Cominco Ltd., said the industry also has to make sure that the 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.

“Younger employees have different priorities,” she said. “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 recognize that and keep changing the work environment and challenges so these young workers will see that employers support their personal and professional growth.

Another challenge facing the industry is to hold on to older workers with more than 20 years of experience who are ready to retire. “That would be a huge loss of intellectual capital,” said Hebert.

He suggested that companies retain these workers for one or two years, either full-time or part-time, and give them more flexible work hours. Dillon agreed and said that new opportunities such as monitoring young people would give older workers the incentive to stay on a few extra years.

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