Mining sector digs in for growth – by Derek Sankey (Vancouver Province – March 3, 2014)

Oilsands forecast to remain strong

CALGARY HERALD – Canada’s mining sector is on the cusp of growth in new jobs fuelled by several projects set to move ahead after struggling through broadly weaker commodity prices and a recent “down cycle,” say industry officials.

Oilsands mining has remained strong – and forecast to remain so – while base and precious metals rebound and new mines are coming on stream, following some workforce reductions in the last few years.

“There are a number of new mines currently in the pipeline that have a tremendous opportunity to gain some of those jobs back,” says Ryan Montpellier, executive director of the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR). “We’ve seen new employment in our north, in coal (and) there is some potential for new diamond mines,” he adds.

“There is a lot of potential in the industry today.” Year-over-year job growth increased by 11,000 jobs from 2011 to 2012, while the total number of mining jobs, including drilling and exploration, was 418,000 in 2012, according to Natural Resources Canada data.

Copper and iron ore have remained relatively strong, although nervous investors have been cautious about skyrocketing project costs amid belt-tightening in the industry, said Pierre Gratton, president and chief executive of the Mining Association of Canada.

“Now we’re starting to get the sense that the shine is coming back,” Gratton said.

“Prices have bottomed out and things are starting to recover. We feel we’re just on the beginning of a recovery.”

In Alberta, labour-intensive, open pit oilsands mining accounted for 40 per cent of the entire oilsands workforce, although that number is forecast to fall to 35 per cent by 2022 as the industry focuses more on in situ operations underground, according to the Petroleum Human Resources Council, or PHRC (now a division of Enform Canada). “As industry evolves, you will definitely see there is some sort of (labour shortage) alleviation, but it’s a very long way out,” said Carla Campbell-Ott, executive director of PHRC.

For now, the need for skilled labour remains strong.

“The hiring needs are critical,” she said.

Industry growth in oilsands mining translated into a 1,000-worker increase between 2011 and 2012, while there were 8,880 total oilsands mining jobs in 2012.

The mining industry faces an uphill battle in finding enough mid-level professionals with five to 10 years of experience as it tries to change its perception among recent graduates.

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