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Article points to mining industry's labor challenges, need for innovative training

Updated: Mar 15

A recent article in The Globe and Mail, Canada's largest national circulation newspaper, draws attention to a looming labor shortage in the country's booming mine industry. Even based upon modest growth projections, the mining industry - which currently employs 230,000 people - will need to hire 112,000 new employees during the next decade. Adding to the problem is Canada's aging workforce. According to Mining Industry Human Resources Council, 40% of people in the Canadian mining workforce is currently older than 50 and one-third of it is eligible to retire as early as 2016. It will be a challenge for mines to simply maintain their current employment levels, much less accommodate growth. More is at stake than just the Canadian mining industry. According to the Mining Industry Human Resources Council, mining has been the biggest job creator in the Canadian economy, accounting for 8% of all new jobs created during 2011, says its executive director, Ryan Montpelier. As the mining industry goes, so go the fortunes of the Canadian economy. One major challenge is attracting young people to work in remote mine locations in harsh climates. According to Steve Letwin, the CEO of Iamgold Corp., Canada's 6th largest gold producer: "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. 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." Labor shortages are already forcing oil sand producers in northern Alberta to utilize multiple strategies to meet the need for large numbers of qualified, well-trained workers, including:

  1. Stepped up efforts to hire and train local aboriginal people

  2. Hiring more women

  3. Flying in workers from other parts of Canada and housing them in dormitories on-site for the duration of their shifts (typically 6 days on, followed by 6 days off)

  4. Importing workers from other countries These challenges, which foreshadow what the rest of the Canadian mining industry is likely to face in the years ahead, are driving the need for training curricula like VISTA's TruckLogic™. It utilizes a blended learning approach to successfully train a steady stream of new recruits at Suncor Energy into safe, productive haul truck operators. "Some of the trainees are not prepared to operate the large haul trucks prior to being hired by the mine," explains VISTA CEO Bruce Rabe. "It's critically important that these people get the proper training so that they can contribute to the overall safety, efficiency and profitability of Suncor's mining operations. TruckLogic™ is helping to fill that need." TruckLogic utilizes a blended learning approach that incorporates computer-based training, PC-based simulation and structured on-the-job training activities. Knowledge is "chunked" into basic operating tasks. "Trainees learn one concept in the CBT, and then have an immediate opportunity to apply it in a simulated environment and in the field. That helps them to retain knowledge much better than before," adds Rabe. This innovative training program, which recently won a President's Award from Suncor, is but one part of the oil producer's aggressive Journey to Zero initiative, which hopes to eliminate lost-time injuries and fatalities to employees and contractors on its mine properties. Suncor believes that all incidents are preventable, and the company is determined to achieve this ambitious goal. The Globe and Mail article references Iamgold's similar Zero Harm initiative, which Letwin implies will soon become a key element in the company's efforts to attract fresh talent to work at its mines: "Zero Harm embodies the value of ethical, responsible behavior and respect that young people value highly, he said. Companies that manifest those values will be recognized and appreciated by the next generation of workers, and they will bestow on those companies an important advantage in what may be mining's greatest challenge: recruiting the employees that will build mining's future success."

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