Ryan McEachern
Managing Director - Mining Suppliers Trade Association Canada
Part of the Spotlight on Mining

On-the-ground International Support for Mining Supply and Services

Takeaways

  1. People often assume that the mining supply and services (MSS) sector solely follows the Canadian mining companies, yet it is better reflected in the potential to tap into international markets that have rich mineral endowments.
  2. The majority of mining suppliers need governmental assistance abroad to accelerate and de-risk trade in countries that have strong mining activity.
  3. To continue to better prepare our workforce for the future of mining, we need to look ahead, observe the trends and most importantly, strike the right balance between accelerating the transition, but remaining cautious as to not disrupt the current mining workforce.

Action

The Prime Minister, Minister of International Trade Diversification, Jim Carr and Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi must play a role at the intersection of our in-country representation in embassies and international mining market intelligence. About 80-90% of the Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in mining are looking for in-country representation because their international clients expect it. More comprehensive market intelligence on the ground will help MSS companies connect with those prospects; be it for business development or more importantly, key partners to execute on the delivery of mining supplies and services.


How do foreign jurisdictions and mining companies view Canada’s mining suppliers and the “Made in Canada” brand?

The Canadian mining supply and services (MSS) sector is viewed as a trusted and ethical business partner in foreign jurisdictions. Our expertise spans the entire duration of the mining life cycle, which provides a very comprehensive breadth and depth of products and services to the mining world. Whether a new mining operation is at hand, or a mineral deposit is almost exhausted, the MSS workforce is able to provide the expertise and knowledge to monitor and do things in a responsible manner. And the fact that the mining sector thrives in a strict business environment is what makes our “Made in Canada” brand so strong. Canadian mining suppliers develop and evolve in a highly competitive and regulated country, which makes us more appealing to do business with in foreign jurisdictions.

“Canadian mining suppliers develop and evolve in a highly competitive and regulated country, which makes us more appealing to do business with in foreign jurisdictions.”

Many MSS businesses are looking to use the Canadian brand as a strong value proposition to secure international partners and increase exports. Unfortunately, “Made in Canada” does not often overlap with global trade. The common assumption is that the MSS sector simply follows the Canadian mining companies. It makes sense and it works for the most part, but the Canadian MSS sector is equipped to do business in almost any country that has a strong mineral endowment and mining industry. Wherever mining suppliers get more support is where they will develop and grow business, and today there is minimal support and lack of a clear strategy from the government for Canadian mining suppliers aiming to enter international jurisdictions.However, MSTA CANADA recognizes the vision of the Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan (CMMP) and looks to see tangible support for the Canadian MSS sector to come from this initiative.


What can we do better to set up our mining service and supply companies for success abroad?

The Prime Minister, Minister of International Trade Diversification, Jim Carr and Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi must play a role at the intersection of our in-country representation in embassies and international mining market intelligence. About 80-90% of the Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in mining are looking for in-country representation because their international clients expect it.More comprehensive market intelligence on the ground will help MSS companies connect with those prospects; be it for business development or more importantly, key partners to execute on the delivery of mining supplies and services.

“About 80-90% of the Canadian SMEs in mining are looking for in-country representation because their international clients expect it.”

Mining suppliers should be able to have more one-on-one support from in-country representatives once they make a clear economic use case and product road map that produces value for customers, employees and investors. The MSS sector doesn’t need every single in-country representative to know all strategic partners. However, it would make sense to have a strong liaison in embassies that reside in mineral rich mining countries. Having that government support abroad would decrease barriers to trade and facilitate exportations for mining suppliers.

In addition, supporting the “Made in Canada” brand abroad through events such as the Canada Pavilions hosted by MSTA CANADA is also key for mining suppliers entering international markets.


With the recent establishment of NRCan’s Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan (CMMP), would you not agree that there is strong government support for the sector?

The CMMP is an important step in the right direction and a robust framework to move forward strategically. As an association, we also work closely with Export Development Canada (EDC) and Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service. The right elements are in place for the majority of mining stakeholders involved in advancing the sector.

However, there is still room for improvement to support mining suppliers engaging in export activities.It’s not just about holding a one or two-day educational workshop on the steps to take to export – this outreach is important but not enough. It is about having consistent and long-term engagements in place so that mining suppliers can really hit the ground running and be more successful when they are out there.

“It is about having consistent and long-term engagements in place so that mining suppliers can really hit the ground running and be more successful when they are out there.”

We are competing against countries like Australia, South Africa, Germany and even smaller countries such as Peru and Ecuador. Their governments quickly identified that the mining and the resource extraction industry is a key component to their economic development. They support it by helping their respective companies utilize their brand, and Canada should easily be able to do the same.


What does the workforce composition of the future mining supply industry look like?

It’s difficult to know the exact statistics of the MSS workforce and how it will change on the granular level because it’s a “hidden sector” divided into different groups such as engineering, construction, manufacturing, accounting or legal. A Pan-Canadian study would shed more light on the whole sector to fully understand what the workforce composition will look like. It is estimated that there are about 4,000 companies that consider themselves mining suppliers. That number can increase just by virtue of the new entrants into the mining industry, such as clean technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation.

On a high-level, the MSS industry is already facing a shortage in the workforce for specialized skills. To be better prepared for the future of mining, both leaders and the government need to understand what jobs will be in demand, not just those that are presently in demand.  For example, in the 1960s, Sudbury had tens of thousands of employees working on mining sites. Fast forward to now and there are only a few thousand because most of the work has either been automated or outsourced. That is where a lot of the work is going. The mining companies will no longer be the dominant employer, but rather they will manage solution providers.In the future, it may not be mine operators that are in demand on site but rather someone that knows how to manage a remote mining operation; as opposed to being on the machine itself. This will be followed by a rise in demand for skilled workers that can repair and do maintenance on the new technology.

“The MSS industry is already facing a shortage in the workforce for specialized skills. To be better prepared for the future of mining, both leaders and the government need to understand what jobs will be in demand, not just those that are presently in demand.”

The industry has to implement job training at the right time for the right job, which is the key challenge. As we move to automation and being able to have one operator for multiple machines, we need to be cautious because if we rush what we need now, we would disrupt huge equations in the mining workforce, which would not be economically beneficial.There are industry leaders such as the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) with Ryan Montpellier that are prioritizing these workforce projections.


What can our industry leaders and our associations do to cultivate the diversity and skill sets needed for this future workforce?

Cultivating the diversity and skill sets needed for the future workforce of mining requires ongoing partnerships within the mining ecosystem. This includes mining companies, mining suppliers, the communities impacted, governments, industry associations, research institutes as well as new entrants to the market such as AI, automation and cleantech businesses. Right now, there is no support for transformational innovation within this ecosystem.

For example, if you look at the Canadian Mining Innovation Council’s (CMIC) roadmap towards zero waste, it’s evident that many mining stakeholders do not have a clear point of view about what that really means. Is this about developing a closed loop system or focussing on reducing mine tailings to zero? How do you bring awareness to the current and future workforce on this subject? These are pieces of the puzzle that need to be structured in a coordinated approach.

There are several stakeholders in Canada that have major mining events where we can invite new players to join and participate in these challenges. We need to bring the AI, automation and cleantech experts to us in order to network, engage and so we can adopt and discover new solutions. The #DisruptMining challenges that have been happening around the world are also a great initiative that is proof that if we keep nurturing the right engagements, the mining industry will propel forward.


Part of the Future of Mining Series presented by: