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Study predicts total workforce renewal

The aging of the workforce, pending retirements, a low birth rate and a lack of interest in the trades by young people are all identified as contributing factors

Reggie Caverson, executive director of the Sudbury and Manitoulin Workforce Planning board, warns that Sudbury mining companies and suppliers will have to recruit more than 21,000 workers over the next 10 years.

A recently released report by Sudbury and Manitoulin Workforce Planning and the Mining Industry Human Resource Council predicts a serious shortage of miners and tradespeople over the next decade even in an underperforming economic environment.

According to the report, the mining and mining supply and service sector in Sudbury employed 25,200 people in 2012, but will have to recruit 21,840 workers over the next 10 years under a baseline economic scenario,

“The industry will almost have to replace the entire workforce, mostly because of the age of workers and people retiring or exiting the industry,” noted planning board executive director Reggie Caverson. “In a contractionary scenario, the number of workers required would only be 300 less.”

The impetus for the study originated with the North Superior Workforce Planning Board in Thunder Bay in anticipation of several new mines proposed for northwestern Ontario’s Ring of Fire region, where Cliffs Natural Resources is planning to develop its massive Black Thor chromite deposit and Noront Resources is working toward the development of its Eagle’s Nest copper-nickel-precious metal discovery.

A region-wide understanding of the mining industry’s labour requirements was deemed advisable, so all of the workforce planning boards across Northern Ontario decided to do similar studies, said Caverson.

The authors looked at commodity prices, labour market and demographic data from Statistics Canada, and projects underway, in addition to conducting one-on-one interviews with industry executives and human resources staff.

Underground production and development miners, millwrights, mineral and metal processors, heavy equipment operators, industrial electricians, welders and mechanics are all going to be in short supply, according to the report.

The aging of the current workforce, pending retirements, a low birth rate and a lack of interest in the trades by young people are all identified as contributing factors.

“A lot of parents want their children to go to university,” noted Caverson. And if you’re a miner, chances are you don’t want your kids to follow in your footsteps, she said. The industry has changed, but it’s still seen as being a dirty, dangerous job.


To add to the problem, mining doesn’t get enough attention in our schools. A Specialist High Skills Major Program in Mining offered by some school boards across the North, including Sudbury’s Rainbow District School Board, was designed to address the problem, “but a lot of those kids are focused on going into fields like engineering and geology,” said Caverson.

“On the trades side, we’re getting very few kids who say, ‘I want to be a machinist, a welder, an electrician or an instrumentation person,’” and the removal of trade shops from the schools hasn’t helped, she complained.

On top of everything else, “the industry itself has probably not done as good a job as they should have changing their image, so people look at mining as going underground with a pick and shovel and don’t understand the high level of sophistication and technology prevalent today.”

Apprenticeship ratios are another problem. For example, current regulations require four journeymen for every apprentice electrician, whereas two journeymen should be more than adequate, said Caverson.

Employers also need to “step up to the plate,” she maintained. “When they’re busy, they don’t have time and when things are slow, they start letting people go, so there aren’t enough people to provide supervision.”

There’s no “one bullet answer,” said Caverson. “Many, many strategies will need to be put in place to bolster our current labour force.”

According to the report, more needs to be done to rebrand the industry, recruit women, aboriginal people and immigrants into the trades and expose young people to career opportunities in mining.

In Australia, noted Caverson, where the mining industry faces a similar problem, trades jobs are being touted as Gold Collar jobs to boost the status of tradespeople and reflect their earning potential.

“A lot of people knew this (shortage) was going to happen, but kept their heads buried in the sand,” she said. The study showed us what we already knew, but it has helped us quantify the problem and now we know what we’re dealing with.

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