A crisis is looming in the mining industry. No, it’s not centered on environmental impact or fluctuations in the commodities market. What the industry will be facing in a few years is a mining labor shortage.
Currently, the mining industry has around 235,000 workers all across Canada who are on the front lines of exploration, development and mining. However, the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) has been crunching the numbers. Within the next ten years, there will be a need for 146,000 new workers to enter the industry, just to keep up with resource demands from customers. That’s good news for the employment market, but not great news for the mining industry that is struggling to find skilled workers to fill the gaps.
Could the answer come from foreign workers helping to fill the demand? That depends on whom you ask.
Recently, a Chinese mining company caused a controversy when it planned to bring over 200 Chinese miners and put them to work at one of their mines in B.C. This plan created opposition from two local unions who challenged the hiring practices in court. Ultimately, the company was allowed to move forward with the hires because they were able to prove that there weren’t enough skilled operators to assume the responsibilities. Try as they might, the unions couldn’t argue with facts.
Due to this situation, there has been a renewed effort on developing proper training programs to expand the ability for Canadians to take up these jobs. In the meantime, the work still needs to be done. Should mines shut down while they wait for workers to finish their classes? This is not a practical solution.
Companies would like to find qualified, long-term, local hires. Unfortunately, the companies facing the shortages, as well as the potential workers will have to be flexible in order to fill open positions. For instance, operations in Alberta’s oil patch actively recruit workers all across the country. Often this will result in workers flying in for a two week shift, then flying back home for their time off.
Although having to endure a large amount of time spent commuting, the willing workers are taking advantage of an opportunity that could certainly lead to financial reward. If the travel heavy job allows them to acquire experience and new skill sets, they could be positioning themselves for advancement within the company or qualifying themselves for a job closer to home. That being said, it makes sense for skilled workers to go where the work is. If you live in downtown Toronto and are not willing to move or travel, you can’t really complain about not finding a mining job.
In addition to a push for training programs, the government plans to make changes in its foreign worker program. These include charging higher fees for applications and compelling companies to pay foreign workers the same rates as local hires. This way you can’t argue that Canadian mine operators are being undercut by the industry.
The company Taseko Mines Ltd, is about to start a new mining operation in central B.C. They’ve proudly announce that they have no plans to hire short-term foreign workers. Of course, they also acknowledge that of the 600 resumes they have on file, there is no guarantee those applicants will have the necessary skills.
The takeaway from all of this? If you’re looking for a dependable career, start training for a job in the mining industry. When you’re finished with your certification, a job could be waiting for you.