Image makeover needed to draw fresh talent to mining – by Brenda Dalglish (Globe and Mail – May 18, 2012)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

It is almost unheard of for CEOs to grant media interviews about human resource matters because in most companies hiring does not require the scarce resource of CEO attention.

But Steve Letwin, chief executive officer of Iamgold Corp., Canada’s sixth-largest gold producer last year with mines in Suriname, Burkina Faso, Mali and Quebec, not only agreed to be interviewed about the serious global labour shortage confronting the resource sector now, but he also spoke frankly about the striking adjustments his company is making to address the shortage of skilled workers.

“We have this massive gap between the mining people who are ready for retirement and young people who are willing to go to locations that are not downtown Toronto,” Mr. Letwin said. “We’ve raised our children – and I have three of them – to want the good life. That’s fine, but the good life is not defined as somewhere in West Africa or deep in the jungles of South America or northern Quebec. So to get people educated, trained and motivated to go to these spots is not exactly easy.”

The Mining Industry Human Resources Council was set up in 1996 to help mining workers transition out of the industry because of its bleak job prospects at that time. It now estimates that, based on only modest growth-rate assumptions, the mining industry, which currently employs 230,000 people, may need to hire 112,000 new employees by 2021, said Ryan Montpellier, MiHR executive director.

Mining has been the biggest job creator in the Canadian economy, accounting for almost 8 per cent of all new jobs created last year, Mr. Montpellier said. With 40 per cent of the current mining work force older than 50 and about a third of it eligible to retire as early as 2016, just maintaining current employment levels will be a challenge.

But there is an unprecedented $140-billion worth of new mine projects in the environmental assessment and permit stages of development across the country, he said.

“Now, they won’t all get approval,” he said, but if a substantial number progress to development, the industry could need as many as 200,000 new employees in the next 10 years.

“Right now in Canada, mining is driving the economic recovery and if that’s going to continue, the industry is going to need people, lots more people,” Mr. Montpellier said.

Their jobs will range from low-skill support positions to skilled tradesmen and highly educated engineers, metallurgists and geoscientists at remote exploration camps, mine sites and business offices across Canada and around the world.

Hindering recruitment are some ongoing misconceptions and outdated perceptions about mining, Mr. Montpellier said. The image of mining as a dangerous, high-risk industry with men doing back-breaking labour deep underground and exploiting the resources of poor, underdeveloped countries is one that the industry must address.

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