Marilyn Scales is a field editor for the Canadian Mining Journal, Canada’s first mining publication. She is one of Canada’s most senior mining commentators.
Bob Katter, who is running for the job of premier in Australia’s Queensland state, said if he were premier he would set up programs to train 40,000 unskilled workers for mining jobs, and unemployed people who refused to retrain as miners would lose their benefits. He sounds as if he is trying to solve two problems at once: provide more skilled workers to an industry facing a dire shortage and cut down on unemployment payments.
The Canadian government is trying to re-jig our employment insurance program to encourage more people to accept jobs outside the area in which they reside. The message is, “Look in more places to find work or don’t collect benefits.” The feds haven’t gone as far as to say which industry job seekers have to work in, or where, and we can’t imagine that a strong-arm tactic such as that would be popular.
But is Katter onto something? How easy would it be to arbitrarily replace retiring workers with trainees? Both Australia and Canada are facing a shortage of skilled workers in their mineral industries.
As we Boomers advance toward retirement, there will be 100,000 skilled jobs in Canada’s mining industry that will need to be filled in less than 10 years. These are good paying jobs done well and with pride by individuals who have spent decades honing their skills. We are going to be difficult to replace with the same level of knowledge. Workers just out of training need the mentorship of older, experienced employees.
I can’t image in a democratic society that the government would insist people work in one industry rather than another. A government might suggest, offer incentives, free training or other inducements for people to choose one career over another. But the days of workers being shuttled off to a gulag are over.
Perhaps there is something in the Australian culture that leads politicians to think they can tell citizens what their careers will be. This a country where the original white population were exiled convicts from the British Isles. The ideas of forced occupations and forced relocation are similar in that two decisions critical to well-being are excluded from free choice by an individual.
The Canadian mining industry would not want a workforce that did not want to be there. People forced to do what they don’t want to do would be resentful, and no industry can thrive with a angry workers.
I suggest we welcome the people who want to be miners with open arms. Offer them good wages, professional support and encouragement. Then they will be there to help a company work safer, smarter and more productively.