Mining industry facing major hurdles – by Douglas Morrison (Northern Ontario Business – September 25, 2015)

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Douglas Morrison is the President and CEO of the Sudbury-based Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) and network director, Ultra-Deep Mining Network.

The mining industry, in Canada and elsewhere, is facing major challenges — now brought into sharp focus by weak demand and low prices. But the problems within the mining industry have been developing for some time and it is naive to think that increased metal prices, through increased demand, will solve this. And although ‘cost-cutting’ that most companies are using may limit some damage in the very short term, it will make it all the more difficult to go on to address the real issues — deep-seated issues that have been ignored for too long.

There are essentially five issues the mining industry Canada needs to address: people, mine productivity, environmental performance, exploration, and new mine development. Each of these will be discussed in turn over the next few issues and I believe that collective action by the industry is the only real way forward. But — first things first —people.

The demographics of the mining industry are reaching crisis proportions. For several years, the federal Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) has issued reports projecting the future demand and supply of every category of employee, highlighting the developing chasm of a shortfall of well over 100,000 over the next 10 years. There are simply not enough qualified people graduating from universities and colleges to fill the gaps being created by retirements from mines in Canada.

Over the last few years, a great deal has been said about the opportunities for more women and Aboriginals in mining, and although there are some successes in Thunder Bay and Saskatoon, generally there are no incentives to promote initiatives for either group, and nothing has fundamentally changed.

Despite this, we still have one of the strongest educational systems in the western world for creating the professional geologists, mine engineers and mineral processing engineers the industry needs, as well as the technicians and technologists to keep it all running. But the maximum out-put of our system is unable to replace more than 25 per cent of the people employed by industry today.

And it is no use looking abroad for more than a few individuals; the numbers simply cannot be made up. The professors in mining departments across the country have done stalwart work to keep the system going, but they have little support from industry.

Many are unable to get companies to agree to mine visits to introduce students to the work environment, far less have companies take on summer students to give them work experience before they graduate. Many mining students now graduate without ever having visited a mine.

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