Addressing the Canadian Mining Industry’s Coming Talent Shortage
Executive Director & CEO
Mining Industry Human Resources Council
Ryan Montpellier was appointed as Executive Director of the MiHR in 2008. With over 15 years of experience in identifying and addressing human resource and labour market challenges in the Canadian mining industry, he leads all strategic activities of the Council and represents the MiHR Council on various industry and government committees, and advisory panels. He is a recipient of the Canadian Institute of Mining (CIM) Young Leaders Award and the International Association of Business Communicators Gold Quill Award.
The Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) is a national, not-for-profit organization that identifies opportunities and addresses the human resource and labour market challenges within the Canadian minerals and metals sector. MiHR drives collaboration among industry stakeholders to understand labour market trends, identify opportunities and develop solutions to HR challenges. Its vision is an inclusive, skilled and sustainable Canadian mining workforce that anticipates and adapts to volatility and innovation.
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1- With an aging workforce and a decline in enrolment in mining education programs, mining companies must work together and think differently about talent development to stay competitive. The mining industry as a whole must look beyond the next quarter or the next six months to identify the relevant skills it needs.
2- To have a sufficient talent pipeline for the Canadian mining sector, the industry will need to recruit approximately 100,000 new workers. Companies competing for this talent won’t work and will cause a talent shortage for the entire sector. To ensure a sufficient talent pipeline, mining companies will have to grow the pie together instead of approaching this shortage by trying to grab the biggest share of recruits.
3- The modern mining sector is increasingly looking for high-skilled talent related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) occupations, including network engineers, software developers and data scientists. This makes mining a more software-centric industry and leaders should look to reposition mining as modern tech industry to appeal to next-generation talent.
Mining companies have to work with academia to design effective career development paths for students. The mining industry’s leaders need to step forward to develop the next generation of the sector’s workforce and shift their talent acquisition strategies to a continuous-learning model; one that engages with promising talent early—as early as high school students.
What are the main labour market challenges for the Canadian mining industry?
One of the biggest challenges the Canadian mining industry is facing is an aging workforce. With 1 in every 5 workers over 55 years old, waves of retirement will soon hit our labour market. We expect that 40% of the current mining workforce in Canada will not work in the sector in the next 10 years. Not only are we losing a massive exodus of workers but also a tremendous amount of capital knowledge and experience at their heels.
To have a sufficient talent pipeline for the Canadian mining sector, the industry will need to recruit approximately 100,000 new workers.The immediate priority is to find and shape the next-generation of talent—which comes with its own set of challenges. For example, post-secondary education programs are declining; from 2015 to 2017, there was a decrease of 45% in enrolment in mining engineering programs.
“Canadian mining companies have to think and act differently about the education and development of our future workforce to grow the pie together and make sure that the talent pool is constantly refreshed.”
Competing for talent is not the solution. If mining companies approach this labour shortage by trying to grab the biggest share of the pie in self-interested attempts, this will create a shortage for the entire Canadian mining sector. Instead, Canadian mining companies have to think and act differently about the education and development of our future workforce to grow the pie together and make sure that the talent pool is constantly refreshed. As an industry, we have to look beyond the next quarter, or the next 6 months, and proactively team up with other mining companies in the same sector or region to identify strategic and relevant skills needed by our industry.
With game-changing technology disrupting the mining industry – such as automation, AI, electrification and others – what are the skills needed to succeed in the mining industry of the future? How does this skill set differ from what would have been required only a few years ago?
Ten years ago, mining companies were not hiring data scientists, they were not hiring system process analysts, and they were not looking to hire programmers or software engineers to operate and program autonomous fleets. What was once a hardware-centric industry is transitioning to one that is increasingly software-centric. Future mining is looking for talent equipped with highly technical and sophisticated skill sets that can work in an industry moving towards automation.
We see the impact of this era already. If we look at the educational profile of our sector today, the number of employees with university degrees in the mining industry is up 230% since 2000. In 2018, MiHR reviewed data from major Canadian job boards, which indicated that 77% of all job postings made by mining companies required a bachelor’s degree or above.
This shift raises concern among our workforce that it will displace workers and their jobs. To some extent, this holds true. Some jobs will be vulnerable to automation as it will decimate the number of repetitive functions, such as drilling and blasting, that operational roles currently entail. However, disruptive technologies will also create several new jobs and increase possibilities for employment never seen before in mining.
Today, the mining sector is looking for more high-skilled talent related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) occupations, including network engineers and software developers. We are also seeing a spike in demand for the hard skills needed to service and do maintenance on the new technical fleets of equipment used by mines.
What are the challenges and opportunities this skill disruption presents for the Canadian minerals and metals labour market?
Today, Canadian youth continue to hold a very outdated and negative perception of the modern mining industry. Few will say: “When I grow up, I want to be a miner.” This perception, joined with the fact that mining deposits are located in more rural and remote locations, does not do well to incentivize millennials to see mining as a preferred career path. Skill disruption presents a huge opportunity to position the mining sector as a more modern tech industry that appeals to the next generation.
It’s no longer about the pickaxe and the shovel; traditional equipment operators give a great example of this shift. Historically, this role would entail operating a piece of equipment on-site, either above or underground. With disruptive technology, not only can operators control several pieces of equipment at the same time from the surface, but they can also do so from a thousand kilometres away in urban centers such as Saskatoon, Thunder Bay and even downtown Toronto. The future mining workforce will go to work in a virtual environment and be able to access all the information, data and environmental keypoints they need to work safely and productively.
Many people who enter tech-based programs are thinking they are all going to work for the Googles, Facebooks and Ciscos of the world, but mining is also hiring a lot of software and computer engineers, as well as programmers. The new high-skills required to work in mining gives our industry a good story to tell to compete for talent against other sectors.In fact, one of the hottest jobs in the mining industry today is a data scientist. It’s essential for the industry to address and work on communicating these value propositions to the future workforce so they can see themselves working in the mining sector.
How can the mining industry, academic institutions, and governments ensure that today’s youth are interested in pursuing a career in the mining industry of the future, and are equipped with the relevant skill sets required to do so?
Many industries with headquarters in large urban centres have an easier time connecting with students. Given that the nature of mining operations is more rural and remote, our sector has to get creative on engagement with youth. There is already great work being done to improve youth engagement; from career maps and profiles, to promo videos, to events and virtual career fairs, to hackathons and challenges. For example, we were recently at the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum’s (CIM) national event in Montreal to showcase the modern mining industry to students.
In addition to initiatives like these, mining leadership can and should do more to help close the talent shortage in other ways: support mining programs that are struggling to survive, advise schools on current mining trends and best practices, serve on educational institutions’ advisory boards and, most importantly, provide work-integrated programs to students.To do so, mining companies have to work with academia to design effective career development paths for students. The mining industry’s leaders need to step forward to develop the next generation of the sector’s workforce and shift their talent acquisition strategies to a continuous-learning model; one that engages with promising talent early—as early as high school students.
“Mining leadership can and should do more to help close the talent shortage in other ways: support mining programs that are struggling to survive, advise schools on current mining trends and best practices, serve on educational institutions’ advisory boards and, most importantly, provide work-integrated programs to students.”
Creating more work-integrated learning opportunities for students, such as co-ops and internships, is crucial and a key priority of ours. Actually, one of the programs we have in place is called Gearing Up, which is funded by the Government of Canada and aims to create 850 new work-integrated learning opportunities in the mining industry. Gearing Up is a wage subsidy program that encourages mining companies to hire more students in co-ops and internship so they can create that link earlier on. Mining companies can also provide more funding, for both educational institutions and any equipment that students must learn to use.
It is our responsibility as an industry to ensure that post-secondary education institutions across Canada can communicate the right information and say, “There is a job in the mining industry at the end of this program and it will provide sophisticated skills that lead to meaningful and secure employment.” This is what the industry should do to introduce students to the benefits of working in mining: an extremely well-paying industry offering secure employment and opportunities for growth and stability.
What can Canada’s mining industry do to improve and increase economic development opportunities for First Nations and their members?
The mining industry today is proportionally the largest private sector employer of Indigenous people in Canada, with over 16,000 Indigenous people in the workforce. It’s also by far the largest purchaser of Indigenous-owned business services and products in Canada. This shows progress, but there is still a lot of room for improvement to increase the participation of Indigenous people in mining economic activities.
There are two initiatives I would highlight that help increase the participation of Indigenous workers. The first one is a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Among the several recommendations the TRC provides, recommendation 92 is one that calls upon the corporate sector in Canada to provide cultural, historical and legal awareness training and skill-based training for all employees. In response to this, we are working with the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) to develop a framework and a set of desired learning outcomes that all employer-training programs should strive to carry out to ensure their employees understand the unique backgrounds of Indigenous populations. That will go a long way in developing a mining workforce that is more open, respectful and inclusive.
“The mining industry today is proportionally the largest private sector employer of Indigenous people in Canada, with over 16,000 Indigenous people in the workforce. It’s also by far the largest purchaser of Indigenous-owned business services and products in Canada.”
The second opportunity revolves around essential skills training. The industry has worked with the Assembly of First Nations, the Métis National Council and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami to develop the Mining Essentials skills training program to help Indigenous people be work-ready and enter the mining workforce. This program has been in place for several years now and is being run in over 45 different Indigenous communities, with over 500 Indigenous youth taking part in it. These types of initiatives led by Canadian mining companies, governments, associations and other stakeholders have made huge strides in helping to train, prepare and develop the Indigenous workforce so they can have meaningful participation that goes beyond entry-level positions, all the way through upper management.
Several mining companies have forged some strong relationships with Indigenous communities. For example, Agnico Eagle is doing some fantastic work in Nunavut in engaging Inuit communities and providing early training opportunities. For a long time, Cameco has been known to employ the largest number of Indigenous people, with over 40% of its workforce from Northern Saskatchewan. The three Dominion Diamond Mines—Ekati, Diavik and Gahcho Kue in the Northwest Territories—have close to a 20-year track record in engaging northern workers, particularly Indigenous workers. Also, Newmont has done some interesting work in recruiting a high level of women and Indigenous people into its organization. I could list several more, but the idea is that there is not just one model for success. Every Canadian mining company has made huge strides in developing unique programs that work for the regions they operate in, and I’m excited to see more of these initiatives.
Part of the Future of Mining Series presented by