INTERVIEW: Chris Stafford, President, C.J. Stafford & Associates

C.J. Stafford & Associates has been recruiting for the mining industry for almost 40 years. How do you view the current dynamics of mining recruitment?

Firstly, in the past I don’t think the workforce moved around as frequently as they are prepared to do today for two reasons. First, they were often used for longer-term employment whereas today many companies grow and shrink with the prevailing economic climate. Secondly, many people today are looking for a variety of work experiences to progress more rapidly instead of staying loyal to one company for a career. Another consideration is that today’s workforce is less inclined to expect long term commitments from employers and are more likely to move if their career aspirations are not being met. In summary, I am not sure that the industry fully understands the change in dynamics that exists in todays ‘talent market.’ Failing to recognize those differences could lead to a shortfall in the recruiting process.

“I am not sure that the industry fully understands the change in dynamics that exists in todays ‘talent market.’ Failing to recognize those differences could lead to a shortfall in the recruiting process”

Job criteria should be reviewed to ensure that it concurs with the reality of the talent marketplace. A position that historically may have required a candidate with 15 to 20 years experience must now consider candidates with 8 to 12 years experience. This could then impact the interviewing process, which no longer benefits from evaluating a long and progressive career; when qualifying a candidate’s suitability, knowing and being able to discuss company culture will be more important for both parties to determine if there is a ‘fit.’ Finally, interviewers should never overlook the fact that the person they are attempting to attract frequently has other career options and are equally interviewing the company. Consequently, the final decision will often be in the hands of the candidate.

Apart from changing recruitment criteria, what can the mining industry do to attract a more diverse workforce?

To remain competitive, mining companies must adapt to the new generation of talent: their demands, ambitions and aspirations. Career paths for most need to be clearly defined and actively pursued. Employers hoping to attract young engineers should be visible to students in those colleges and universities offering the earth science programs. This means regular visits, job fairs for the larger employers and ensuring there is someone in the organization who is recognized for this sole purpose of contacting graduates and can provide a depth of knowledge and experience with the company.

Retiring military personnel would also be good prospects for hire, they are trained in trades, logistics, security and administration and are used to relocation when the job requires it and typically have a great work ethic. In fact, a major U.S. mining company has been recruiting from the military for years.

Regarding gender diversity, exploration appears more attractive to women as they consist of 29% of the workforce whereas extraction and mining only has 14% women according to the Canadian Mining Labour Market Intelligence in 2018. Though the number of females graduating in engineering sciences has increased across the board, the % of women in mining has hardly changed over the last decade and remains around 16%. This is an area that clearly requires a focussed strategy if it is to change – especially in the operational and maintenance roles.

For the third consecutive year, Engineers Canada collected data regarding Indigenous students’ enrolment and degrees awarded. Similar to the female population in engineering programs, Indigenous people are still greatly underrepresented, accounting for just over 1.2% of reported undergraduate students. Companies offering apprenticeship programs within their organizations for new employees is becoming more common.

How much do you believe technology will offset the need for human capital?

Technological advances have already had an impact on the sector and will continue to do so as the benefits become more evident. It may mean eliminating some positions but, at the same time, creating a demand for new skillsets – some of which might be transferable from other industries. This will enable the mining industry to look outside the sector to fill some positions, something it has seldom been able to do in the past.

How have working conditions for mine workers evolved over the years? 

The industry has become more flexible with regards to the terms and conditions being offered to new hires. This is most evident with fly in rotations that more recently have been adapted to suit the employee. Companies who fail to consider this type of flexibility run the risk of limiting the talent available to them. Though rotations are a challenge for some, it does allow a family to set down roots and have access to quality services that may not exist in a small, remote mining community. In addition, there are some people who have adapted to this way of life and prefer the multiple continuous workdays followed by multiple continuous days off. The bottom line is that employers must listen to what their employees want, provide opportunity for careers to develop and ensure their employees are continuously challenged.

In the age of LinkedIn and online job applications, what are the benefits for both the employer and employee of using an executive search agency such as C.J Stafford & Associates?

C.J Stafford & Associates is very experienced in the business of recruiting for the mining sector. The knowledge and experience we have gained over 30 plus years enable us to identify, qualify and present better than random online or start-up recruiting services. Not only do we qualify candidates on their technical ability, knowledge and experience but also on the personal and social compatibility before presenting to the client. We are highly committed to ensuring that when a site interview is arranged, there is a 50% chance of them being offered the position and accepting the offer if made. The real benefits to our clients are that they gain access to the best candidates and spend a minimal amount of time in the recruiting process until final interviews. The benefits to candidates include a career move that will be handled discretely and in confidence and that their applications will not be lost in a computerized ‘in house’ HR software program because we have access to the key hiring managers.   

What is C.J Stafford & Associates’ main objectives moving into the next decade?

We will continue to encourage mining companies to be more proactive in attracting young talent into the sector and to use our 30 plus years of experience to consult with clients in developing more effective hiring strategies that will recognize the challenges associated with recruiting and retaining quality talent. We will also continue to encourage clients to include more diversity and creativity when hiring, particularly from those groups that are underrepresented.

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