The Canadian Mining Industry is in the early stages of recovering from an extended downturn. While companies are optimistic about their prospects, many will soon face a new challenge; the looming retirement crisis. The MiHR (Mining Industry Human Resources Council) forecasts more than 51,000 retirements from the sector by 2025, representing over 25% of the industry’s current workforce. The projected workforce shortage represents an enormous gap to fill in a short time-frame, magnified by the fact that the mining industry will not only be losing employees, but also a wealth of knowledge and experience.
"...the mining industry will not only be losing employees, but also a wealth of knowledge and experience."
Compounding the problem is the fact that this skills shortage coincides with an expected return to stronger commodity prices, and the industry is projecting a forecasted need of 106,000 new workers by 2025 simply to meet baseline production targets.
Sources: Mining Industry Human Resources Council; Canadian Mining Industry Employment, Hiring Requirements and Available Talent 10-year Outlook, 2015, cited in Facts and Figures of the Canadian Mining Industry, 2016, Mining Association of Canada and reproduced from that report.
Beyond simple numbers, the Canadian workforce is becoming increasingly diversified; an upwards trend that has not been duplicated within the mining industry. Identifying skilled labour to fill these positions will be a huge challenge - but one opportunity to narrow the gap in human resources will be to target traditionally under-represented groups, such as women and immigrant workers. Actively engaging these groups in mining employment and education initiatives will be a key factor in counterbalancing the coming retirement problem, and represents an opportunity to change the industry landscape by bringing in new ways of thinking, as well as a cultural perspective for a global industry.
Women in Mining
The mining industry represents a large portion of the Canadian employment market, accounting for over 560,000 jobs nationwide (373,435 directly related jobs and 189,657 indirectly related in 2015 as per Statistics Canada, cited by the Mining Association of Canada). That means 1 in 48 jobs in Canada is directly related to mining.
According to a 2015 report by the MiHR, female participation in mining grew by 70% from 1996 to 2011, but still only accounts for 17% of the mining workforce, a mere 38,600 positions. This is a sizeable gender disparity that is disproportionately large compared to the whole of Canada’s workforce, where the female participation rate is 48%.
Sources: Mining Industry Human Resources Council; Statistics Canada, cited in Facts and Figures of the Canadian Mining Industry, 2016, Mining Association of Canada and reproduced from that report.
The roots of this gender disparity are complex, but we can actually see this disparity begin to crystallize in college and university programs, where perceived gender-based challenges can deter women from moving into certain careers and trades.
"...perceived gender-based challenges can deter women from moving into certain careers and trades."
Interestingly, data from the MiHR shows that women are under-represented across the board in the mining industry, even when the job title itself is unrelated to mining, such as human resources or finance, and that furthermore, the mining industry is still not attracting a representative proportion of women in occupations with traditionally low female participation when compared to other industries.
There is hope, however, in the form of efforts at all levels of industry, government, and academia aimed at attracting and retaining talented women in the mining industry. Last year, for example, Status of Women Canada announced $495,000 in support of a new project, Addressing Systemic Barriers for Gender Equity in Mining. (Status of Women Canada, cited in Facts and Figures of the Canadian Mining Industry, 2016, Mining Association of Canada.) The project aims to identify and mitigate any systemic barriers to women’s participation and advancement in the sector.
Visible Minorities and New Arrivals
The MiHR reports that in 2011 immigrant workers represented only 13% of the mining industry, while making up 23% of the Canadian workforce as a whole. Here again is a tremendous opportunity to increase diversity.
The mining industry is comprised of dozens of core occupations, all of which will experience shortages in the coming years. Many of these are roles in the sciences such as mining engineers, metallurgists, geoscientists and geologists, as well as workers skilled in computer technology, information management and mechanical repairs.
According to a 2016 report from Statistics Canada, 46.8% of students enrolled in engineering and 38% of those enrolled in computer and information sciences came from visible minorities. The Canadian education sector has been promoting diversity for several years, and it’s beginning to show in undergraduate enrollments. It is imperative that these bright future graduates recognize the Canadian mining industry as a viable and lucrative option for them when they are ready to enter the workforce.
"It is imperative that these bright future graduates recognize the Canadian mining industry as a viable and lucrative option for them when they are ready to enter the workforce."
This will require effort on the part of industry and others to work towards removing any real or perceived institutional barriers towards their entry into the industry.
Tapping into the Power of Diversity
When answering the question about whether diversity adds value to any operation, one only has to look at the advantages of representation from Indigenous peoples within the mining workforce – their participation in the mining industry is double the national workforce average (Statistics Canada, 2011, as cited by MSA). Many First Nations communities are in the heart of the Canadian mining industry, and companies are increasingly leveraging their internal talent when promoting community relations.
It is vital to remember that focusing on diversity in future hiring isn’t simply about filling open positions. On the contrary, it’s about transforming the landscape of the industry. With a more diverse workforce comes fresh perspectives, creative ideas, outside-the-box thinking and the power to shape the future of the entire sector. In fact, the industry call for diversity is already underway. In his annual letter to chief executives, BlackRock CEO Laurence Fink made some powerful statements on the subject, writing that
“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose.” He went on to say that
“Boards with a diverse mix of genders, ethnicities, career experiences and ways of thinking have, as a result, a more diverse and aware mindset. They are less likely to succumb to groupthink or miss new threats to a company’s business model. And they are better able to identify opportunities that promote long-term growth.” Ultimately, he warned that companies unable to prove social impact is important to them will
"lose the license to operation from key stakeholders."
"...companies unable to prove social impact is important to them will "lose the license to operation from key stakeholders.""
It's a crucial time in the history of mining in Canada, and I remain hopeful and optimistic that we will take what appears to be an enormous challenge and transform that into an opportunity to flourish.