Tackling the Mining Labour Shortage

Aboriginal Mine Training | BCBusiness
Williams Lake-resident Michael Peeman pursued welding after high school, but the lack of work in the field quickly discouraged him. In 2012 he started work at the Blackwater mine, 160 km. southwest of Prince George.

Mining faces an acute skilled-labour shortage, and First Nations offer a solution

With the mining industry in the doldrums these days, it’s hard to believe there’s a shortage of skilled labour. After all, slumping commodity prices and a tough financing environment have led to layoffs across the sector. Mining companies nevertheless face an acute crisis: how to replace a massive wave of workers who will be retiring over the next decade. About 16,770 workers will have to be found by 2022, according to estimates from the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MIHRC).

Companies are increasingly turning to the largely untapped pool of workers in aboriginal communities. These potential employees offer several advantages, according to Rodger McLean, opportunity development manager at construction firm Ledcor Group, which does work for mining companies such as building facilities and preparing and reclaiming mine sites. Members of aboriginal communities are often close to mining operations in the more remote regions of the country, and companies gain local knowledge of mining sites, which can be invaluable during each stage of the mining cycle, McLean says.

Ledcor has just started working with the Vancouver-based Aboriginal Mentoring and Training Association (formerly the B.C. Aboriginal Mine Training Association) for work it is performing for Taseko Mines Ltd. at Taseko’s Gibraltar copper-molybdenum mine north of Williams Lake. AMTA, funded largely by the federal government, has placed more than 700 aboriginal workers in mining industry jobs at about 150 companies, mostly in B.C., since its founding in 2009.

According to a Pricewaterhouse-Coopers study commissioned by AMTA and released last year, the average AMTA graduate earned an annual salary of $52,959, compared to $36,667 for aboriginal workers across all industries in the province. Each graduate also accounted for an estimated $106,804 contribution to provincial GDP, the report concludes.

First Nations are eager to get work in the mining industry, not just for the paycheques but the longer-term opportunities for themselves and their communities, says Dave Porter, CEO of the B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council. “We should cast this in terms of careers and not simply look at First Nations communities as warm bodies to fill the basic functions,” he says.

Mining and other resource companies should be looking at recruiting First Nations candidates for roles in management, says Porter, including participation in designing and developing projects at the start of the mining cycle.

“The aboriginal population is the fastest-growing in Canada, but at the same time has some of the highest unemployment rates. Then we hear of the resource sector having a labour shortage. One would think there would be a match,” Porter says. “Now is the time to take the initiative.”