The most recent labour study for Saskatchewan’s mining industry supports what any business manager already knows: finding enough good people for your company is a challenge. The 2011 study – produced by the Saskatchewan Mining Association and Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MIHR) – predicts that 15,100 additional workers will be required over the next 10 years. This requirement is a mix of both the baby boom generation retiring and the significant industry expansion underway in Saskatchewan.

The job requirements span more than 60 key occupations ranging from entry level unskilled labourers to professional engineers. Furthermore, the study also points to an aging workforce in the mining industry, with some 12 per cent already eligible for retirement at an average age of 62That means there will be an increasing demand not only for skills but also experience.

The SMA is taking a multi-faceted approach to address the gaps, according to Pam Schwann, executive director. In some areas, the goal is to attract more people from an existing pool of talent by promoting careers in mining both inside and outside of the province. Even with depressed economies in other regions, the industry faces a robust competition for talent. Canada-wide, the mining industry is predicting a need for 100,000 workers by 2020. Other industries, such as oil and gas in Alberta, also have a strong need. The workforce is aging not only in Saskatchewan, but throughout the country.

One of the out-of-province recruitment strategies is partnership among the SMA, Enterprise Saskatchewan and the alumni organizations of the University of Regina, University of Saskatchewan and SIAST – with the goal of attracting ex-pat alumni in locations such as Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McMurray and Vancouver back to Saskatchewan. Another strategy leverages key national and international mining events such as the Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy and the Prospectors and Developers Association Convention to promote the vibrant Saskatchewan mining scene and positive Saskatchewan lifestyle to key groups of professionals.

The second approach advocated by the SMA is to do more to retain and re-engage the older workforce. The baby boomer workforce may be aging, but this demographic is also healthier and – because of a lack of retirement funds – more likely to want to keep working beyond the fabled “freedom 55” objective of decades past. Thanks in part to technology, there are many aspects of mining that could readily be addressed by experienced senior people without being physically taxing.

The third broad approach is to “make a bigger pie” of potential employees that grows the talent pool available. There is significant potential in this regard. This includes attracting key talent groups who have traditionally been underrepresented in the mining workforce, specifically First Nation and Métis people, women, and immigrants. According the Statistics Canada, the mining industry outperforms the rest of the economy in terms of employing Aboriginal peoples. The Saskatchewan mining industry leads the country in this area, due in large part to Cameco and AREVA’s northern mining operations and promising new initiatives at potash mines in the south. As one of the fastest-growing segments of the Saskatchewan population, and with Aboriginal communities close to many mine sites and operations, First Nation and Métis youth offer the mining industry in Saskatchewan the competitive advantage of a local talent pool. Currently the mining industry underperforms the overall economy in employing women and new Canadians. According the Statistics Canada’s 2006 census, the participation of women in mining was just 14%, (compared to 47% for the entire economy) and the participation of immigrants was only 8.7% of the mining workforce (compared to 21% of the Canadian workforce). Increasing the representation of First Nation and Métis people, women and new Canadians in the mining workforce will help address some of the projected talent pool requirements.

Another part of “making a bigger pie” is to increase the number of programs related to careers in the mining industry. The province’s educational institutions have worked closely with the SMA to identify training needs and develop appropriate courses. The most recent example – announced at the SMA’s annual general meeting in February of this year – is the new Mining Engineering Technology program at SIAST, which will provide hands-on training in mining design and operation. Jamie Hilts, SIAST’s dean of Technology, says the program, “will help ensure that Saskatchewan has both a competent and qualified labour force to meet the growing demands of the sector.” Hilts has no doubt that all 24 spots in the program will be filled when the program starts this fall.

The new program received strong support, particularly from Mosaic and Western Economic Diversification. Hilts says, “The response from the mining sector – suppliers as well as mining companies – has been tremendous. There is a real genuine interest, a shared sense of ownership of the program, and a strong desire to see the program succeed.” Various companies have come forward with offers of support in various ways, including participation in course instruction and work study. “SIAST as a significant role to play in the advancement of the mining industry,” says Hilts.

Strong support for mining-related programs comes not only from the industry, but also students. Jim Kells, head of the Department of Civil and Geological Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan, tells the story of their new mine ventilation course. Last fall, the Department decided to proceed with developing the course. It was launched via the online registration system in late November, which meant that students who wanted to take the mine ventilation course had to trade it off against another elective. “I was in the midst of sending out an email to students notifying them of the course, when I received a call from the Engineering Student Center to let me know students had already found out about it, and that 18 students had already registered. By the end of the day, we had all 25 spots filled, with another six on the waiting list.” The same scenario had played out the year before, when the first mining course was introduced. Within 10 minutes, all 25 spots had been filled; we then added 15 more, and within 10 minutes those, too, had been filled.

Kells, who himself is Saskatchewan born and raised, says that students who are trained here are much more likely to stay here. His informal survey of last year’s U of S graduates in civil, geological and environmental engineering revealed that roughly 85 per cent of the grads were staying in the province. More and more of these students will be going into the mining industry. “The industry came to us, asking us to tweak our program in geological engineering so that those students would be better prepared for the industry, and we’re responding,” says Kells. Plans are now being put into place to have a full-fledged mining option in the geological engineering program, which students would take beginning in their third year. The option will include such courses as mine ventilation, drilling and blasting, and mining methods.”

No question, the mining industry and its public sector partners are heading in the right direction, but there is also no question it’s a long road to go before the demand will be filled. Filling the gaps might be a headache for HR departments, but for ambitious hard-working students from Frontier to Fond du Lac, opportunity isn’t just knocking – it’s thrown the door wide open.

For more information on mining in Saskatchewan, please visit the Saskatchewan Mining Association’s website or contact:

Saskatchewan Mining Association
Regina, Saskatchewan
Telephone: (306)757-9505
E-mail: saskmining@sasktel.net

Article first published in the Saskatchewan Mining Association’s ORE publication. Used with permission.