Most companies in the mining industry today are preoccupied with cost-cutting and streamlining operations as mineral deposits are discovered in more remote and adverse locations, some only accessible by air.
This has resulted in the advent of a fly-in and fly-out work culture and employees demanding higher wages which puts extra pressure on vital cost management. However, despite the current economic downturn and increasing cost pressures in the global mining industry, many remain positive for growth and expect the industry’s demand for skilled people to increase.
For example, according to research undertaken by Jody Elliott Consulting, in 2011 the mining industries of South Africa, Canada, the US and South America cited significant growth plans and will need more than 250,000 new entrants to the industry globally from 2012 to 2017.
So what is the real story of the global mining industry’s jobs market in 2014? Is the industry attracting and retaining the kind of skilled individuals, including women and indigenous people, it requires, or have cost pressures resulted in a drop in demand?
Australian miners are increasingly looking abroad to sell their expertise as the domestic market slows down.
In a roundtable interview, four industry insiders from key mining areas around the world give us their opinion. The contributors include Ryan Montpellier, executive director of the Mining Industry Human Resources Council in Canada; Brad Thorp, manager recruitment operations at Mining People in Australia; Gavin Kihn, careers division head at CareerMine, which covers 85% of all global mining jobs, and Nichole McCulloch, managing partner at executive search firm The Ashton Partnership.
Heidi Vella: What are the key challenges HR teams and recruitment agencies in the mining industry currently face?
Mining Industry Human Resources Council executive director Ryan Montpellier: There is no question there is a challenge in recruiting for certain occupations and certain regions of [Canada]. A number of new mining projects are in the northern part of the country in rural and remote locations. Many of them are only fly-in and fly-out. For some people that lifestyle works but for many people it does not. So that creates significant challenges around attracting, recruiting and retaining the workforce, and particularly regarding retention. I think we’re able to, as an industry, find people that want to try it, they do it for a few years but then eventually they look for work so they can go back to their own bed and their own families on a regular basis – so retention is certainly a challenge.
Mining People recruitment operations manager Brad Thorp: The key challenge that we see in the industry is maintaining a solid relationship with highly skilled candidates. The recruitment methodology is changing rapidly from one of posting advertising and waiting for applications to come in, to one of networking via multiple candidate contact points. The future for recruiters and HR teams is to have consistent, meaningful interactions with candidates over an extended period of time, not just when we are presenting a job opportunity to them.
?Ashton Partnership managing partner Nichole McCulloch: The key challenges are cost reductions and tackling diversity. With cost reductions, we just have to work with our clients to find candidates they can afford and to help create more creative packages. With diversity we have to think outside the box and look in other sectors and coach our clients to be flexible in terms of who they consider for roles. We are not suggesting companies take under or unqualified candidates to tick diversity boxes, but there are always compromises with all candidates and it is working with the clients to make them more receptive.
HV: What would you say is an accurate picture of the skills availability in the mining industry in 2014?
RM: We look at the labour market conditions of our industry on a regular basis and we are forecasting that over the course of the next ten years the Canadian mining sector will need to hire about 145,000 new people to meet the needs of our sector and most of that is replacement demand; to replace people who are leaving due to retirement or leaving to go and work in other parts of the country or other industries.
That is about 80%; the other 20% of the 145,000 is due to net change and new growth of the industry. Now in Canada there is about $145bn of new mining programmes currently going through environmental assessment and the permitting phase and although not all of them will come to fruition in the next few years many of them will. Even if a small fraction of those existing mines come on board to be productive mines then it will have a significant impact on the amount of people required in our sector.
BT: From an Australian perspective we feel the skills shortage for high quality technically trained people is still a very real issue for companies to deal with. In our experience, it is rare to see people permanently leave the mining industry unless there are significant changes to their personal circumstances. Sure, during downturns certain sectors of the market, for example exploration geology, may need to look to other industries, but given the cyclical nature of mining we see these people return as the market picks up.
CareerMine careers division head Gavin Kihn: There is still a huge availability of skills in the mining industry. However, in Australia, for example, where the mining boom has died and resulted in thousands of job losses, people who worked in the mining industry have had to look to other industries where they can find employment. On a global basis though, it is hard to accurately say whether more people are joining or leaving the mining industry.
HV: Which particular skills are most in demand and which job roles are hardest to fill?
RM: That is a tough question to answer. Certainly, the occupations where we have a lot of need are in the skilled trades and the production occupations. Those occupations focus on heavy equipment operators, heavy equipment mechanics, welders, electricians, pipe fitters. They certainly require the most quantity around them in terms of the number of people. But the ones that are the most critical are highly skilled occupations – engineers and geoscientists. There is no shortage of graduating mining engineers today but it is very hard to find a mining engineer with ten or 15 years’ experience. That is probably our biggest challenge. Canada exports a number of mining engineers worldwide but it is trying to recruit those individuals with experience to come back to our Canadian operations.
BT: The major area of skill shortage we see right now is in the mine planning disciplines and geotechnical area. Additionally high demand still remains for highly skilled tradespeople.
Northern College in the busy mining province of Ontario, Canada, has teamed up with the local Confederation College to deliver its century-old international mining course to more students.
GK: Overall there has not been much change in demand for skills, other than there seems to be a demand for geo-sciences skills – geotechnical engineers, civil engineers and ground water hydrogeologists. These skills are being sought by mining companies to address two ongoing issues: mine waste management and mine closure planning.
HV: In the past the mining industry has had a notoriously difficult relationship with indigenous peoples. Is this relationship improving and are more indigenous people finding employment in mining?
RM: Absolutely, probably our largest growth source of labour supply is aboriginal people, as we prefer to call them in Canada. And there is a number of very good partnerships between aboriginal communities and mining companies; there are about 120 agreements that have been signed by local aboriginal governments or communities and mining companies in Canada. Of those 120 agreements a number of them include profit sharing, employment and agreements to purchase services that are Aboriginal owned. Several of Canada’s diamond mines operate with about a 40% aboriginal workforce and the aim is to get to 50% or more.
BT: I’d preface my answer by saying I don’t believe Australian mining companies would consider their relationship with indigenous people as "notoriously difficult". Companies that operate in Australia have now and for many years been some of the largest employers of indigenous people. Nearly all mining companies operating in Australia have proactive policies to encourage employment of indigenous people. The major mining houses all have targets of indigenous employment of between 10% and 20% of their total workforce and most are well on their way to achieving those.
NM: We are seeing an improvement in the amount of searches we are running for national candidates which has increased 100% in the last three years. Companies are realising the long term value of recruiting national candidates and also creating programmes where ex-pats come in for a short period of time with the task of training up national candidates in their roles, this has been very successful.
HV: Do you think the industry is improving its appeal to women?
RM: In Canada female participation used to be around 10% for a number of years. This number is up to 16% so it has seen a 60% increase in the last decade. Is it good 16% of our workforce being female? Certainly not, we are lagging behind a number of other industries in terms of [our ability] to attract, recruit and retain women; however, that being said, progress is being made. The industry is hiring more and more women and what is encouraging is that women hires are not just in administrative or human resources or coordinator roles; we have seen women underground, operate equipment, in the trades, more and more women in engineering and geosciences fields and even in management. In Canada we have Zoe Yujnovich who is the CEO of Iron Ore Company and is now the president of the Mining Association of Canada, so we have the first female president running the association which is quite historic.
BT: Absolutely; the Australian mining industry has been very proactive in encouraging women to join and stay in the mining industry. Currently the mining industry has approximately 14% of the workforce being women. The goal for the industry is to increase this to 25% by 2020. Additionally, many companies that are residentially based are now offering things like extended day care to cater for longer shifts and job sharing to help facilitate women staying in the industry.
NM: I would say, to reference the latest report from Women in Mining (UK) and PricewaterhouseCoopers, in terms of senior women globally in the industry, senior management and executive roles, women make up 11.5% of the workforce. The industry is trying, but it is difficult as many roles require living in difficult jurisdictions and have significant travel. Organisations need to be more flexible not just with women but also with men to make it easier to have a family and to ensure that once they are ready to come back into the workforce they can do so.
GK: In general, women are always welcomed to the mining industry and I believe the appeal is always there. Women are highly regarded in speciality areas such as environmental sciences and in some countries women are preferred over men to operate equipment such as dump trucks, as they tend to be easier on equipment. I don’t think the appeal will ever be there for women to work in tough environments such as underground mining, in labour, operator and trade and skilled positions.
In South Africa for example, the mining charter depicts that women should make up 12% of mining companies’ workforces, however it does not specify how women are to be deployed on mines.
HV: Are you seeing an increase in people switching from other industries into the mining industry?
RM: We do. We have seen a significant influx of people from the forestry sector. The forestry sector in Canada went through some very significant downsizing over the course of the last 15 to 20 years. The mining industry has been a significant benefactor of this. The people who tend to work in the forestry sector tend to share very similar skills [as those in the mining industry]. We found it quite easy to transition people from the forestry sector to the mining industry in Canada.
We have looked at other industries and transition capabilities from the military, from automotive manufacturing, which also saw significant downsizing, from the chemicals industry and from other manufacturing sectors but we have had significantly less success doing that primarily due to the fact most of these other people are living in large urban centres – Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver – and don’t necessarily want the lifestyle of living in different areas of the country where the mining activity is happening.
BT: We do see people transitioning from other industries and where we see success is from industries such as agriculture, armed forces or the civil construction industry. Where people have had the opportunity to attain a relevant trade, qualification or attain machine operating skills there can be a relatively seamless transition.
NM: There is an increase in moving between industries with the most successful and largest populations being between oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, engineering, armed forces and aerospace and defence.
HV: How has the increased use of autonomous technology impacted recruitment in the industry?
RM: We have been following the use of autonomous technology and driverless hall trucks, but that phenomenon is much more used in Australia and in other parts of the world. We haven’t seen that technology be implemented on a large scale in Canada yet. So we do take this into consideration when we look at our labour market forecast and need. We know it is coming, we know it will have a significant decrease in terms of the human resources a mine site will need, but it will create a different kinds of jobs – jobs to manage the fleet and to guide this fleet. Although the number of people required will be less it will create new opportunities and positions.
BT: We have not seen a significant change in hiring trends due to the increasing use autonomous technology. It is still only a relatively small part of the Australian mining industry so the impact has not been felt as yet. We do expect to see changes over the coming year with the demand shifting to fewer but more highly skilled individuals.
GK: There is no evidence of automation having an impact on recruitment in mining. Some companies such as Rio Tinto in Australia have rolled out automated haulage systems where satellite technology is used to run unmanned dump trucks.
The change that may come in time will be a recruitment requirement for automated haulage systems operators, instead of dump truck operators. However dump truck operators will always be required in the Australian mining industry and those who embrace the change and take opportunities to upskill will survive long into the future.
HV: What advice would you offer anyone looking to start a career in the mining industry?
BT: Be persistent and be prepared to move out of your comfort zone to get an opportunity. Quite often people hear of the so called "mining boom" and expect to land a position within weeks of starting their search. Quite often this is not the case and it could take months so be prepared mentally and financially to accommodate an extended job search.
Secondly, be prepared to relocate. The people that gain entry into the industry most quickly are the people that are prepared to relocate to the regional mining centres to get a foot in the door. If you don’t have much or any experience it’s very difficult to land you first mining job if you are located in Sydney or Melbourne, for example. We suggest considering relocation to places like Mt Isa, Broken Hill, Kalgoorlie or Port Hedland.
NM: I would tell them to be flexible; the more countries and sites they experience, the more rounded and attractive they will be to an employer.
GK: Spend a lot of time researching the industry and growth opportunities in the areas one wishes to study in. If possible get a mentor, or at least speak to professionals who have been in the industry for a long time and get their advice. Look into some of the less glamorous aspects of work in the mining industry like working in remote locations and being away from friends and family for weeks at a time.
If possible, visit mining career fairs and trade shows and talk to HR representatives of mining companies. Investigate co-op, intern and summer student work opportunities while studying. Besides working for mining companies, consider opportunities to work for companies such as independent mining consultants, engineering firms, equipment manufacturers and suppliers, audit and legal and many more.
Main Image courtesy of Anglo American