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Talent trends shaping the mining industry in 2021

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The mining industry is going through a seismic shift as factors such as reputational challenges, resistance to embracing new technology, an increased focus on sustainability and a lack of diversity are forcing mining organizations to adapt and evolve. The covid-19 pandemic has amplified these challenges and primed the industry for change and growth.

A new report by global executive search firm Odgers Berndtson has found that a key factor in this growth and evolution will be the mining industry’s ability to attract, retain and develop top talent. The report explores the themes and insights shared by more than 60 industry executives from companies such as Agnico Eagle Mines, Anglo American Platinum, Boliden, De Beers, Ferrexpo PLC, Iamgold, Kinross Gold and Newmont.

Almost half of the industry’s present workforce is over the age of 45 and an estimated 60,000 people will be retiring in the next decade in Canada alone, according to the Mining Industry Human Resources Council. And this situation is simply a microcosm of a broader global issue. The bottom line is talent planning and recruiting next generation leaders needs to be top of mind for industry executives around the globe.

“Maturity of the industry requires the cultural sensibilities and energy that young people bring. Command and control no longer works and needs to change”

Catharine Farrow, Board Director, Franco-Nevada

Speaking at PDAC 2021, Barrick CEO Mark Bristow identified the fundamental question miners need to be asking themselves: “How can mining become acceptable to future generations?” While mining is essential, “it’s an unloved industry,” Bristow said. “We’ve got to change that.”

Attracting talent within a shrinking talent pool

According to the executives we surveyed, younger generations have become more interested in purpose-driven work and hold strong views about many of the environmental issues the industry is struggling to address. Part of attracting new talent requires educating the marketplace about mining as the advanced and high-tech business it has become. It also means shifting organizational culture so that more young people see mining as an exciting career path.

Catharine Farrow, a director on the board of Franco-Nevada, said “maturity of the industry requires the cultural sensibilities and energy that young people bring. Command and control no longer works and needs to change. It’s this environment that has turned young people away, but by the same token, we need them to lead us out of it.”

Many mining organizations are working closely with universities locally and around the globe to recruit individuals, offering scholarships and promoting technological innovation and a clear outline of career advancement opportunities to appeal to new graduates.

Forward-thinking mining companies are also shifting to automate operations and adopt digital communication platforms to open up the potential of attracting a new generation of tech-savvy leaders. Sherritt International has created ‘hubs’ for R&D and production in popular locations (such as Stockholm, London and Toronto), reducing the need for talent to move to remote mining areas.

Going beyond ticking the diversity and inclusion boxes

In today’s climate, it’s no surprise that another challenge the mining industry is facing in attracting talent is a lack of a diverse and inclusive culture. According to Bloomberg, the proportion of women employed by mining companies sat at around 15.7% in 2019, with numbers worse at the management level. Odgers Berndtson’s research supports this, finding that when asked what the top three talent-related challenges are for mining organizations, the majority selected diversity and inclusion.

It is not simply a focus on the recruitment and development of women alone that’s important, but also the many underrepresented groups often missing from the leadership ranks. Attracting, mentoring and promoting diverse talent to move into leadership roles earlier is key, as is providing them with development programs and opportunities to ensure their success.

“Diversity and inclusion need to be spoken about more openly—organizations need to have the really hard conversations. Open and transparent dialogue and action requires more than the ticking box exercise we’re seeing within the industry right now,” Farrow said.

Investing in talent planning & retention is key

Attracting talent is only the first stage in an organization’s growth strategy. Retaining and developing talent are equally important for the long-term success of any organization.

Executives surveyed by Odgers Berndtson identified slow career progression and lack of growth opportunities, combined with an overall lack of succession planning, as risks to the industry’s long-term growth and success. Organizations must have well-defined processes in place to identify and assess next-generation leaders and then to develop them through stretch assignments and professional development.

“Money gets people in the door, but culture retains talent. If an organization wants to retain talent, they need to advance them, and encourage them to expand their footprint outside of their comfort levels,” Farrow said. “There needs to be mutual respect and a welcoming environment for both individuals that want to stay in their comfort level and grow with a company, and those that want to grow externally and challenge themselves. And if someone leaves and comes back, they are bringing new ideas and added value.”

Some organizations are starting to use talent mapping as a way of identifying untapped potential within their organization and skillsets that aren’t being leveraged. Others, like Iamgold, have focused on the development of critical soft skills and not just promoting people based on technical ability.

Searching for well-rounded leaders to drive future growth

Talent planning for the future requires a thorough understanding of how the world has changed and what kind of leader will be equipped to face the transformation taking place within the industry. This means developing leaders that can not only see the future and connect the dots from a ‘systems thinking’ perspective, but also who are agile and compassionate and can establish organizational values that are built into the culture and fostered across the organization.

Top candidates are looking for organizations that are technologically advanced, diverse and inclusive and committed to modern ESG practices. This is why boards and executive teams must take the lead in developing a clear vision, purpose and values that are being lived inside and outside their organizations so their companies can thrive now and into the future.

(This article first appeared in The Northern Miner)

Mary McKenzie is principal in the global mining and metals practice at Odgers Berndtson in Toronto.