Answering the HR Challenge: Why Industry Collaboration is Essential

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Towards mid 2009, economic indicators began to point towards recovery in the mining sector. While companies were focused on managing through the recession, planning for the next decade was not an immediate priority. However, it is important to remember that regardless of our point in the cycle, the demographics of the industry have not changed and it is still anticipated that the mining industry will need tens of thousands of new workers in the next decade in order to meet its labour force requirements.

The average Canadian miner is over 45 years of age and a recent Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) study suggests that 40 per cent of the mining workforce will be eligible for retirement by 2014, taking with them an average of 21 years of mining sector experience each and driving the need for skilled workers to 60,000 – 90,000 by 2017. The largest percentage of workers planning to retire within the next ten years is in the skilled trades group.

To lessen the risks posed by this situation, it is critical that mining companies start to address these HR challenges now – intensifying their efforts in employee retention, attraction, leadership development, skills training and succession planning. Greater cooperation between governments, industry, academia, Aboriginal peoples and other stakeholders will also be a key factor in meeting the sector's training, mobility and immigration requirements. Organizations that do this will be better-equipped to take advantage of emerging opportunities.

MiHR works collaboratively with industry stakeholders to address the HR challenge. MiHR projects are executed within a strategic plan which comprises three key priority areas:

  • attraction, retention and transition;
  • skills, learning and mobility, and
  • human resources research for industry sustainability.

Industry collaboration in and support of this strategy play a critical role in the creation of a stable and appropriately skilled workforce to ensure that the HR challenge is met.

Growing Our Workforce

With labour market information indicating a high level of retirement over the next decade, attracting new workers to the mining industry is a top priority. Under MiHR's Attraction, Retention and Transition (ART) priority, one project aims to make best use of all sources of labour through workforce diversification. This attraction strategy equips mining companies with the necessary knowledge to recruit, retain and advance more underrepresented groups, such as Aboriginal workers, women, new Canadians and youth in the sector and provides Aboriginal communities with the information and resources to develop local training and employment opportunities.

For example, Canada's Aboriginal communities are part of a multi-pronged effort by MiHR to address the labour shortage. Proximity is a critical factor, as many Aboriginal communities are located close to 220 principal producing mines and more than 3,000 active exploration sites. Additionally, half of all Aboriginal peoples in Canada are under 25 years of age and feature a growth rate more than four times that of the general population, making them one of the fastest growing groups in the country.

Some Canadian mines have shown that it is possible to achieve high degrees of Aboriginal recruitment, retention and advancement. MiHR collaborated with industry, organized labour, educational institutions, Aboriginal community leaders and other groups to develop the resources and guides for both industry and Aboriginal communities. Mastering Aboriginal Inclusion in Mining and the Guide for Aboriginal Communities are readily available from MiHR.

"The Guide for Aboriginal Communities provides a wide range of information that will enable career counselors and other HR professionals to educate young people and prepare Aboriginal communities to more fully participate and benefit when career opportunities arise over the next decade,"  says Melanie Sturk, MiHR's Director, Attraction, Retention and Transition. "It's a win-win situation for everyone."

Recruitment of new workers to the industry and skills development of the existing workforce is fundamental to meeting future human resource demands. MiHR remains focused on developing and executing hiring programs to attract a non-traditional workforce enabling Canadian youth, women, visible minorities and Aboriginal people to participate in this high-paying sector.

Building a common understanding

Another key strategy, not only to attract and retain top talent, but also to increase labour mobility, is to define a set of nationally recognized occupational standards and certify workers against them.  Certifying workers to industry-defined standards ensures that the training, skills and experience of existing and potential new workers meet the needs of employers.  Building a common understanding across the country about previously unrecognized or loosely-defined occupations will help to support mobility in the labour pool and facilitate recruitment of workers at new and existing mine sites.

Workers who have trade designations, such as electricians and millwrights, hold a certificate of qualification that is recognized by employers across the country, yet there is no equivalent system to recognize skilled, experienced workers in the "undesignated" occupations, such as miners or minerals processing operators.  As a result, mining sector employers may struggle to assess the qualifications of experienced job candidates and may have to waste resources retraining new hires in areas where they have already demonstrated competency in the workplace.

Furthermore, the lack of a valid credential for some mining employees may lead to frustration and a lack of loyalty to the sector and their occupation.  Workers with skills sets that are not recognized may seek opportunities elsewhere.

For the past three and a half years, under its Skills, Learning and Mobility priority, MiHR and a group of stakeholders have been working together to build a suite of National Occupational Standards (NOS) that create a common understanding of the skills, competencies and knowledge required to work safely and proficiently in various occupations in the mining industry.  The NOS for underground miners, minerals processing operators and surface miners are now complete and others are in the development stages.  These NOS will be used as the benchmarks for conducting workplace assessments and certifying workers who have demonstrated that their skills and knowledge meet or exceed the newly defined industry standards.

Considering the future

A final important strategy, the collection and analysis of labour market intelligence, is not possible without stakeholder participation in MiHR's third priority area of human resources: Research for Industry Sustainability. This priority focuses on human resources-specific research activities that directly contribute to the sustainability of Canada's mining industry. Providing increased intelligence to industry stakeholders enables the sector to proactively address labour market challenges, such as recruitment, retention, diversification and training. By identifying labour market supply and demand gaps, industry and other stakeholders can take practical measures to ensure that the risks associated with a shortage (or surplus) of labour can be mitigated. Labour market information underpins every aspect of industry planning and preparedness. In response to this, MiHR's Mining Industry Workforce Information Network (MIWIN) has published provincial labour market reports for British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario while a national study is currently underway, to be released this summer. This study will be further developed into an online database with a query function that will enable users to create and customize labour market projections.

* Lindsay Forcellini works for The Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR), which is the sector council for the Canadian minerals and metals industry.

Links and References:

Attraction, Retention and Transition (ART) priority

British Columbia

Canadian Mining Credentials Program

Exploring Mining Careers

Guide for Aboriginal Communities

Mastering Aboriginal Inclusion in Mining

Mining Jobs

Minerals Processing Operators

Mining Industry Workforce Information Network

MiHR Portal for Aboriginal Communities

National Occupational Standards

Ontario

Research for Industry Sustainability

Saskatchewan

Skills, Learning and Mobility Priority

Surface Miners

The Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR)

Underground Miners

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