New HR study on mineral exploration reveals mid-career attrition by women is a key challenge

A new study shows that while mid-career attrition is affecting the entire mineral exploration sector, the trend is noticeably higher for women. This challenge, combined with labour shortages and an aging workforce in the professional sciences occupations could translate into a crisis for certain talent groups in mineral exploration, particularly management and senior-level positions, according to the study, released by the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR), in partnership with the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC).

“The worldwide demand for skilled labour in this sector is constantly increasing and driving up the cost of human resources,” says Dr. Scott Jobin-Bevans, The Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) president. “We have to work harder to attract more Canadians to this industry.”

Unearthing Possibilities: Human Resources Challenges and Opportunities in the Canadian Mineral Exploration Sector analyzes the labour market issues and the short- and long‐term HR challenges facing the exploration sector and serves as the basis for developing an industry strategy and action plan to address key HR issues. “Mineral exploration differs from mining (extraction and processing) in several key ways: main activities performed; occupational mix, size and nature of organizations involved in the sector; type of work; location of work; and demographic profile of the workforce” says Dr Martha Roberts, Director of Research at the Mining Industry Human Resources Council. “These differences present a number of unique HR challenges which we identify in the study” she adds.

Key findings:

An aging workforce: Despite the younger age profile of the mineral exploration sector, some occupations will still face problems due to having a bulge of younger workers and older workers and few in the middle. As older workers retire in the affected occupations, finding qualified people for senior-level positions will become increasingly difficult.

Lack of career awareness: The study revealed a lack of awareness of career opportunities in exploration, as many participants reported not being exposed to geology, or geosciences, until secondary school when many students have already made career plans. Participants agreed that middle-school students are an ideal age group for exposure to mineral exploration, as they are open-minded and beginning to consider career options.

Underrepresentation of key talent groups: While under-represented in both sectors (women currently make up 20 per cent of the exploration sector and 14 per cent in mining), the study revealed a trend of mid-career attrition by women in exploration. “Findings suggest this trend may be linked to field work and highlights that partnerships with geosciences groups are needed to conduct further research on women in geosciences positions to better understand the specific challenges and issues they may face” comments Dr Martha Roberts.

The study revealed the exploration sector underperforms both the mining sector and the rest of the labour market in employment of Aboriginal peoples. The mining industry (e.g. including some aspects of exploration) is the number-one employer of Aboriginal people in Canada (with 6.8 per cent Aboriginal representation, compared to 3.2 per cent in the labour force); however, only 2.1 per cent of the full exploration workforce is Aboriginal. Exploration activities are often located in close proximity to Aboriginal communities, and the sector also employs a large portion of highly educated professionals, (over 75 per cent of the workforce) making it uniquely positioned to grow the Aboriginal talent pool and support opportunities for higher education of Aboriginal peoples.

Educational requirements and training: The educational requirements of the exploration sector are very high and increasing, which reduces the mobility of workers into this sector from other occupations and industries. Therefore, future labour shortages will need to be alleviated by a combination of attracting more immigrants with the necessary skills, and increasing enrolment in post-secondary programs geared towards the sector’s needs.

Lack of field experience was also identified as a significant roadblock to employment. In light of this, working to build and strengthen direct links between industry and education and identifying solutions to logistical barriers will be instrumental in creating opportunities for careers seekers to gain this valuable experience through summer jobs, field work as part of a course lab, or co-op programs.

The future

In the mineral exploration sector, there are over 3500 companies and 95 per cent of employers are micro- and small-sized establishments, whereas the mining sector is mainly comprised of fewer large, multinational employers. Therefore, the approach to researching, identifying and providing support for HR challenges and opportunities differs greatly between the sectors, despite several similarities. MiHR is exploring the possibility of further research on HR management in micro- and small-enterprises to better understand their needs and, ultimately, create a hub to lend support to facilitate collaborative HR management efforts between smaller companies to reduce costs.

Unearthing Possibilities: Human Resources Challenges and Opportunities in the Canadian Mineral Exploration Sector can be accessed for free at or To request a print copy, please contact MiHR at (613) 270-9696 or [email protected].


The Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Sector Council Program.

The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.

About the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR)

MiHR is the HR knowledge and research centre for Canada’s minerals and metals industry. MiHR contributes to the strength, competiveness and sustainability of the Canadian mining industry by collaborating with all communities of interest in the development and implementation of solutions to the industry’s national HR challenges. For more information, visit

About the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC)

PDAC represents the interests of the Canadian mineral exploration and development industry. Established in 1932, the association has 7684 individual members (including prospectors, developers, geoscientists, consultants, mining executives, and students, as well as those involved in the drilling, financial, investment, legal and other support fields) and 1081 corporate members (including senior, mid-size and junior mining companies and organizations providing services to the mineral industry). For more information, visit