Earlier this month, the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) published the 2019 Canadian Mining Labour Market Outlook. The report explores the human resources trends in Canada’s mining industry. In short, the 2019 report shows that retirements are set to have a huge impact on the sector over the next decade, women continue to be underrepresented, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and mining engineering graduates will be in high demand.

Key findings

  • Mining industry outlook is for cautious economic recovery and growth, unemployment returned to historically low levels in 2017, and vacant job positions grew in 2018,
  • Women continue to be underrepresented in mining at 16 per cent of the workforce, little change from 2011 census data,
  • The industry is expected to need to hire roughly 97,450 workers over the next 10 years (2019 to 2029),
  • Increased adoption of new technology in the mining industry has increased the demand for mining workers with specialized STEM skills,
  • Undergraduate mining engineering program enrollment dropped 12 per cent between 2015 and 2016, the largest decline of all engineering programs.

These trends may be of little surprise to AME members. Already, we see them playing out here in British Columbia with an aging workforce and competition with the burgeoning technology sector for tech-savvy graduates, particularly in the Lower Mainland. Two key issues identified in the report are particularly relevant to the exploration sector in B.C.

Explorers are innovators

With increased adoption of new technologies comes an increased demand for specialists able to operate equipment, interpret results and manage systems and teams. The number of STEM-related occupations in mining – e.g. engineers, geoscientists, chemists, information systems specialists, technologists, technicians – increased from 14 per cent to 20 per cent between 2001 and 2011 and was hovering at 18 per cent in 2016.

The demand for STEM specialists is highest in exploration, decreasing as the mine goes into production and non-STEM occupations become more prominent.

“The proportion of STEM workers in the mining industry is highest in exploration (39%), followed by extraction & milling (15%), primary metal manufacturing (14%), and support services (14%). The high share of STEM occupations in the exploration sub-sector reflects the importance of scientific and technical skills required in the mine discovery phase. The relative share of STEM skills decreases as the mine goes into production and non-STEM occupations become more prominent.”

Which just proves what we have always known, that we explorers are the most innovative! But how will we convince the best and brightest new graduates to pursue careers in mineral exploration?

Exploration has the highest percentage of women (but still work to do)

Women make up 48 per cent of the Canadian labour force and continue to be vastly underrepresented in mining, making up just 16 per cent of the mining labour force, essentially unchanged from 2011. However, there are about twice as many women, by percentage, in exploration as there are in milling and manufacturing.

“In exploration, women make up 29 per cent of all occupations and 23 per cent of selected occupations in the exploration sub-sector, making it the sub-sector with the highest representation of women in the mining industry.

“These are interesting percentages, especially considering that higher shares of women may become self-sustaining after reaching a critical mass. Within this context, the exploration sub-sector may be closer to a tipping point that could lead to unlocking the benefits of gender diversity.”

Challenges ahead

An awareness of these human resources challenges is essential, given the already volatile and cyclical nature of exploration. To read the full report, visit https://www.mihr.ca/news/2018/canadian-mining-labour-market-outlook-presents-picture-of-industry-in-recovery