Labour Shortages in the Mineral Sector According to Demographer David Foot

This article was provided by the Ontario Mining Association (OMA), an organization that was established in 1920 to represent the mining industry of the province.

Renowned demographer David Foot, author of the best selling book Boom, Bust & Echo, provided miners with some guidance in building their workforces of the future.  He made a lengthy interactive presentation on “Profiting from the Demographic Shift in the 21st Century” at the Ontario Mining Association conference “Demographics, Global Markets and the Future Workforce” held in Windsor last week.  On the national level, mining is looking for an estimated 92,000 new employees over the next decade.

Mr. Foot, who is a professor of economics at the University of Toronto, is a demographer who has gained celebrity status.  He has changed the way people think about population trends.  His presentation helped the mineral audience better understand the impact change and population growth will have on their industry, their company and their organizations.  While Mr. Foot regularly reminded the audience that in 365 days, we will all be one year older, he argues that demographics explains at least two-thirds of everything.

Along with showing demographic profiles of Canada, Ontario and specific mining communities in the province — Sudbury, Timmins, North Bay, Windsor, Red Lake, Marathon — he shared his research on the demographic profiles of specific employment positions in the sector such as mining engineers, geological engineers, drillers and blasters, mine labourers and mine supervisors.  Mr. Foot suggested that the mining industry in Canada has about a five-year window demographically to do some creative hiring and build for its future.

“There is a paucity of women in mining and it is in your best interest to get more women in the industry,” he said.  “There is a company involved in the Alberta oil sands that only hires women drivers and it has found that the equipment lasts 35% longer and I think in some cases women will treat the trucks and equipment better than their kids.”  The latest census data shows that females comprise 46.9% of the Canadian workforce but only 13.1% of the mining workforce.

“The young are the champions of technology and they always have been,” he added.  “You need to communicate with young people the way they want to be communicated with, not the way you want to communicate with them — flexibility and openness are essential.”   Some of his suggestions included more strategic recruiting and education to raise the level of awareness of the career paths mining can make available to people.  He believes the high-tech nature of the industry and its rewarding pay scales are pluses that appeal to the next generation of workers. 
While Mr. Foot felt that reaching out for a better gender balance could assist the sector in dealing with its human resource issues, another area that is demographically favourable for prospective employees is First Nations.  “The First Nation population is generally younger and it is growing at a faster rate,” he said.  “You should be in there actively making sure they are educated but you need a whole different approach to recruiting First Nations.  While North American society puts the individual before society, First Nations tend to think of the collective before the individual.  You have to get to the teenagers.” 

Other components of the program for the “Demographics, Global Markets and the Future Workforce” conference included a workshop on “How to make the mining workplace more feminine friendly,” an OMA annual general meeting, an OMA Board of Directors meeting, an underground salt mine tour, speeches by Michael Gravelle, Minister of Northern Development and Mines, and Sandra Pupatello, Minister of Economic Development and Trade and the presentation of the inaugural Tom Peters Memorial Mine Reclamation Award.