Miners partner with colleges to graduate skilled workers – by Simon Avery (Globe and Mail – November 12, 2013)

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Despite being at the forefront of Canada’s job growth over the past three years, the mining sector will not be able to grow at its full potential in the next decade because of a lack of trained workers, those in the industry say.

The resources industry has begun to work closely with governments, colleges and universities to try to address the looming shortage it fears. The mining industry will need more than 145,000 workers by 2023 to fill new positions and to replace individuals leaving the sector. That is a tall order, given the figure represents more than 60 per cent of today’s work force.

The expected shortfall is based on modest forecasts, says Ryan Montpellier, executive director of the Mining Industry Human Resources Council, which made the calculations.

The problem may have been obscured in the last couple of years as mining companies cut jobs and cancelled multibillion-dollar projects around the world in response to falling commodity prices. But the issue remains as pressing as ever. The boom in mineral exploration in the three years leading up to the financial crisis means that there is about $140-billion worth of projects in the Canadian pipeline today, most awaiting environmental and permit approval, Mr. Montpellier says.

New mining projects will find it difficult to attract all the required skills across a broad range of activities, from engineers to heavy equipment operators, he warns.

But mining specialty programs, such as the one at Yukon College, in Whitehorse, aim to graduate people with some of those badly needed skills.

The first group of students has just graduated from the newly formed mining operations program at Yukon College, designed to teach entry-level skills and to get locals interested in the sector.

“I definitely have my foot in the door now,” says Jason Johnson, who got on-site work experience at Capstone Mining Corp.’s Minto Mine as part of the program. “I have made some good connections and believe I have a better chance at getting a job than I did three months ago.”

All the students in the inaugural class are likely to find jobs quickly, says Shelagh Rowles, executive director of the Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining at Yukon College.

One reason is that the human resources departments of the three companies mining in the territory selected the individuals for the program. In addition, the centre’s governing council – comprised of managers from the mines, First Nations delegates and the Yukon government – keeps the college closely connected to the needs of the stakeholders.

At Cambrian College of Applied Arts and Technology, in Sudbury, Ont., an advisory committee of industry representatives gives faculty regular feedback on what mining companies require.

“They are very active,” says Katherine Bruce, a professor of mining and geology and the co-ordinator of Cambrian’s mining engineering technology program. “They don’t hesitate to tell us, ‘This is what we see, this is what we want.’”

Generally, employers are looking for strong workplace skills and a high degree of professionalism in graduates, rather than just good grades, she says.

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