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More women needed in mining, study says

The mining sector needs to start recruiting more women, Aboriginals and immigrants to deal with an impending labour crunch, according to a report released last week by Sudbury and Manitoulin Workforce Planning.
Only about nine per cent of the workforce in Sudbury's mining industry are women. A report by Sudbury and Manitoulin Workforce Planning said more women will have to enter the field if a worker shortage is to be addressed. File photo.

The mining sector needs to start recruiting more women, Aboriginals and immigrants to deal with an impending labour crunch, according to a report released last week by Sudbury and Manitoulin Workforce Planning.

The study shows the mining and mining supply and service sectors employed 25,200 workers in 2012. If the mining industry were to stay the same size as it is now, 21,440 workers will be needed over the next 10 years.

At the same time, less than one per cent of local mining workforces are Aboriginal, nine per cent are women and less than five per cent are new Canadians or temporary foreign workers.

In other words, “we will almost need to replace our entire workforce within the next 10 years,” Sudbury and Manitoulin Workforce Planning executive director Reggie Caverson said.

“Really, the whole area of women, Aboriginal people and newcomers and immigrants are kind of an untapped source of labour pool, and we haven't really encouraged people to move into those skilled trades.”

The study was carried out for Sudbury and Manitoulin Workforce Planning by the Mining Industry Human Resources Council. It uses a combination of Statistics Canada information and interviews with stakeholders to come to its conclusions.

Caverson said a committee made up of representatives from the mining industry, local school boards, post-secondary institutions and government is currently looking at how to get more women into the mining industry.

Right now, only about four per cent of those entering apprenticeships at the high school level are female, she said.

This needs to change, Caverson said. Women need to be told that they can enter the mining sector and “do just as good of a job as any guy can.”

Industry also needs to crack down on sexual harassment against female employees, which still exists in some cases, so they feel safe and comfortable in the mining sector, Caverson said.

In terms of Aboriginal people, more efforts need to be made to upgrade the skills of individuals who'd like to work in the mining industry “and match them with the employers that are available,” she said.

Another potential labour pool, immigrants, for the most part settle in Canada's big cities, she said.

“So there are strategies that exist through the local immigration partnership that's being sponsored by the City of Greater Sudbury, taking a look at how we can make the community more attractive.”

The executive director of the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association said he agrees women, Aboriginals and immigrants are needed in the mining industry. Getting them there may be a challenge, though, as many have never considered a career in the sector, Dick DeStefano said.

“Education is what's needed — proving that it's safe and making cultural changes in the mining industry so they can accommodate women.”

The labour crunch is also being caused by an aging workforce that is nearing retirement, challenges in attracting local youth to mining professions and the poor image of the industry, the report said.

Caverson said there's still many Baby Boomers working in the local mining industry, and many of them will retire in the next few years.

Sudbury's median age, 48.2, is above the Ontario average, at 40.4, and includes a relatively high percentage of workers aged 60 and older, the report said.

If we don't turn things around, and if we aren't serious about making changes, then it certainly could lead to a crisis...

Debbi Nicholson,
executive director of the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce

One of the solutions suggested by the report is workforce succession planning. For example, if an older worker is nearing retirement, they would train a younger colleague to eventually take over their job.

Many of these Baby Boomers have contributed to the skills shortage by discouraging their children from entering the mining industry because they feel it's a dangerous, dirty profession, Caverson said.

What they're not telling them is mining technology has advanced to the point that in some cases, people don't even have to go underground to do their jobs.

“What we've sensed is that a lot of people who have worked in the mining industry tell their kids 'You've got to go to university. That's the way to go,'” she said.
“Now we have a lot of young people who have university degrees with no jobs, and we have a lot of trades positions that need to be filled.”

The report suggests integrating mining education into school curriculum to promote mining-related occupations as a viable career choice.

This already happens to some extent, Caverson said, with programs such as the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada's Mining Matters, and the specialist high skills major in mining offered in Ontario's high schools.

There's also a yearly awareness week in Sudbury focusing on the mining industry, which was recently rebranded as Modern Mining and Technology Week.

To ensure the maximum number of people are being trained, the rules surrounding apprenticeships need to be changed, the report said. In Ontario, for some trades, four fully trained workers are needed for each apprentice.

These are some of the highest apprenticeship ratios in the country, which makes it difficult for small- and medium-sized businesses to take on apprentices.

As well, mining companies tend to lay off workers during economic downturns and then cry out for workers when the economy rebounds a year later. The report suggests companies try to keep workers on during recessions by reducing their hours.

While Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce executive director Debbi Nicholson stops short at calling the report alarming, she does say it's a “wake-up call.”

“If we don't turn things around, and if we aren't serious about making changes, then it certainly could lead to a crisis, no doubt about it,” she said.

Nicholson has some unique ideas of her own on how to stem the impending mining industry worker shortage. She suggests setting up a mining recruitment program in the city similar to the existing physician recruitment program.

“We've had a plan in place to attract more physicians to this community,” she said. “It's been quite successful. So if we can replicate that and use the best practices from that, and do it for other professions, that might be helpful.”

Vale spokesperson Amanda Brosseau said in an email statement the company has long recognized the projected labour shortage is a potential challenge.

“Although Sudbury is in a geographically favourable position, with many things to offer, we have other operations where recruitment and retention is more challenging and we are continuing to look for ways to help overcome these challenges,” she said.

“We have excellent relationships with our local colleges and university and will continue to partner with these institutions to help us meet our future needs.

“We recognize that it is incumbent on all mining companies in Canada, regardless of size, to work together to ensure we continue to attract new people into the industry."

DeStefano said many of the solutions set out in the report are already in some stage of implementation by a variety of organizations. But everyone needs to work together to address the issue, he said.

“The mining companies need to assemble a forum of human resources personnel that should develop a coherent strategy in co-operation with the appropriate government agencies that influence the results to establish some specific goals collectively to expedite the solutions,” he said.


Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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