Scarcity of talent threatens profitability – by Van Zorbas

Van Zorbas is a partner in Deloitte Canada’s Human Capital practice. He can be reached at 403-503-1460 and

This column is from the February/March 2011 issue of the Canadian Mining Journal, Canada’s first mining publication.

Aging workforces. Looming waves of retirement. An inability to attract new talent to the field. In recent years, demographic trends like these have plagued the mining industry—and the situation only promises to get worse. According to the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MIHRC), by 2020, over 60,000 Canadian mining employees will retire. To maintain current levels of production, that means the industry will need an additional labour force of 100,000 people(1). And that doesn’t take into account the higher levels of production likely required to meet escalating global demand for commodities.

Already, labour shortages are creating untenable situations for mining companies. In western Australia, for instance, some companies fly employees thousands of miles to their workplace. Aside from the financial and logistical challenges this entails, this heightened level of worker mobility puts bargaining power squarely in the hands of skilled talent. Critically, this comes at a time when the mining industry is experiencing a serious talent gap. Due to low participation in the industry over the past several decades, many mining companies lack experienced middle managers.

The recent Deloitte report, “Empower your talent: Building a high-performance organization,” details approaches for surviving this talent gap. Here are some strategies to consider as you structure your own talent management program.

1. Enhance leadership agility

For many years, leadership planning centred around identifying optimal successors for key corporate roles. While succession planning is essential, it is by no means the ending point. To retain coveted middle management and attract strong talent from other industries, mining companies must build agile leaders capable of adapting to changing conditions. This involves identifying promising leaders across the organization, and well beyond the top few hundred roles, and investing in them by moving them to different teams and roles within the business. It includes turning leadership development into a strategic priority that merits senior executive time and attention. And it challenges mining companies to bring the human resources team to the table when setting organizational strategy and policy.

For many mining companies, these actions represent a departure from business as usual. However, by focusing on tangible tactics like job rotations, special projects, cross-training and global mobility transfers, you can do more than build a superior leadership bench. You may also be able to better retain the middle managers capable of driving the most significant change for your organization.

2. Increase employee engagement

While enhancing leadership skills is essential, it cannot be applied in isolation. Mining companies also need to get more creative in the strategies they adopt to retain existing talent by keeping them engaged. Most organizations recognize that this involves meeting their employees’ professional and personal requirements. They are often simply unsure on how to deliver on that objective.

While there are no hard-and-fast rules for ensuring employee engagement, best practices do exist. For instance, companies that use a corporate lattice to guide career paths (rather than a corporate ladder) encourage greater flexibility by empowering staff to “dial up” or “dial down” their careers based on their personal goals. By letting people align those goals with customized work arrangements, such as flexible hours or travel opportunities, you can begin to improve retention of the best and brightest.

Similarly, leaders should be encouraged to share skilled staff with the organization at large as a way to promote internal transfers instead of losing people to competitors.

3. Collaborate more effectively

A third pillar of talent management is the need to leverage different styles of collaboration as a means to enhance productivity. Given the diversity of business units across a typical mining company, executing on complex projects is frequently cumbersome. To get hundreds or even thousands of people to work together as one—instead of as many—executives must understand the different collaboration styles that tend to drive different organizational goals, choose the model that best aligns with their culture and enter outsourcing or offshoring arrangements that allow them to scale up or down as market demands shift.

Closing the talent gap

Although mining companies face a significant talent shortage, strategies exist for both attracting new talent and further developing the talent already onboard. By analyzing your workforce supply patterns and future talent needs, you can identify potential gaps and take steps to close them right away. This type of workforce planning is critical for any organization eager to drive business, strengthen decision-making and energize the bottom line.

(1) Mining Industry Human Resources Council, 2010. Accessed at on October 13, 2010.