Building human capacity: the Vale solution – by Dick DeStefano (Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal- September, 2011)

Dick DeStefano is the Executive Director of Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association (SAMSSA). This column was originally published in the September, 2011 issue of Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal.

Building human capacity: the Vale solution – by Dick DeStefano (Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal- September, 2011)

The global mining industry will face a serious problem in the near future acquiring and developing the human potential required to maintain economic viability. We need to find solutions very quickly to solve the problem.

According to the Mining Industry Human Resource Council’s (MiHR) 2010 Canadian Mining Industry Employment and Hiring Forecast report, under the baseline scenario the Canadian mining industry will need to hire approximately 100,000 new workers by the end of 2020. This is the number of workers required to fill newly created positions and to meet replacement demand as workers retire or leave the mining industry.

Australia shows a similar trend, with skilled jobs in the mining industry doubling within the next 10 years to 215,000. In 2005, the U.S. Society of Mining Engineers reported that 58 per cent of industry workers were over the age of 50.

Northern College and other educational institutions in northeastern Ontario are making attempts through their academic programs to solve the problem.

With a hand from Kirkland Lake Gold Inc., Northern College is helping to address the industry’s shortage of skilled miners through its Underground Hard Rock Miner Common Core training program. Created through a partnership between the school and the mid-tier gold miner, the program has provided an opportunity for those returning to the North who are searching for permanent full-time employment.

The college wanted to frame the proposal for the program so production mining could be recognized as a trade, which would make it eligible for government funding. Although an official miner’s trade status never came to fruition, a syllabus was created after three to four years of collaboration.

As well, recognition of the shortage and subsequent need for skilled miners in the industry was translated into financial support through Second Career, a provincial program that assists with tuition fees for qualifying students.

Senior management

The need for senior management who are capable of advancing new efficiencies is an added concern on top of the continual requirement for skilled workers. In a recent article in the Spring 2011 issue of Ontario Mineral Review, I was impressed with the strategic efforts of Vale Canada.

For the Canada-U.K. region, Vale has implemented an existing global company program called “Rite of Passage” for its line management personnel. This program strives to help first and second line managers understand how their respective roles contribute to the larger vision and the upholding of the values of the company. It is the first step towards ensuring that employees at each level of management have the knowledge, tools, resources and support they need to be successful in their jobs and to advance their careers with the company.

The historic meaning of Rite of Passage has religious and cultural undertones. If you Google the definition, you will find multiple references to the origin of the term from a variety of cultures. The classical definition is a ritual or ceremony signifying an event in a person’s life indicative of a transition from one stage to another. In the Vale context, it means the first stage when transitioning to the next level of management.

Vale’s program is being led by Steve Ball in the HR Vale Education department. Ball’s apt title is manager of talent management and people development. One week courses have been developed and are being delivered in partnership with two of Ontario’s top–ranked business schools: the Schulich School of Business (York University) and the Rotman School of Business (University of Toronto).

Important step

“We view these programs as an important step to help our front line supervisors and managers understand their role in what is a very large global company and help them to be properly equipped with context about Vale that they can share with those they work with every day,” said Ball.

“People are far more likely to willingly contribute to the success of the company if they understand what the company is about and how they can contribute at a personal level.

“The commitment to the Rite of Passage from senior management cannot be understated. The fact that participants are provided the opportunity to attend a week of learning in Toronto which is delivered by two of the top business schools in the country demonstrates the level of significance attached to these programs.”

The number of human capacity efforts within the mining technology cluster in Northern Ontario is laudable and reflects the serious approach needed to solve the skill shortage problem in mining and related industries for the long term.