The mining industry is currently one of the most dynamic and promising industries for young Canadians, offering highly competitive wages, engaging work, and tons of opportunities for advancement and training.
Canada is one of the world leaders in mining. The industry produces more than 60 metals and minerals, and makes up 5% of the national GDP as well as 19% of national exports.
“There are going to be some pretty big opportunities to take on roles that perhaps the previous generation wouldn’t have had until later on in their career.” —Courtnay Bush, Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR)
Mark Ashcroft, a professional engineer who is the President and CEO of Stonegate Agricom, a company focused on the development of phosphate deposits in the Americas, says, “There is nothing we do today that isn’t directly reliant on the mining industry. Be it talking on the phone, surfing the web, having a medical procedure performed, taking public transit or eating lunch, all of these activities use tools crafted from metals and industrial minerals sourced from the earth by mining.”
And contrary to what most students may think, mining is not a bleak working environment or just a bunch of import/export statistics. It’s an increasingly diverse and technological industry, and one that places importance on corporate social responsibility.
The demographics of the industry are perfect for young workers who looking to establish their careers: the number of Canadian mining workers over age 50 is two to five times the number below age 30.
Melanie Sturk, Director of Attraction, Retention and Transition with the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR), says, “The beauty of the mining industry is that there’s a huge retirement rate, which is true for a lot of sectors, but it’s actually higher in mining than in most sectors.”
A lack of investment in employees during the 1990s coupled with Canada’s ageing population means there is a huge gap in workers following the Baby Boomer generation.
What does this mean for potential entrants to the mining industry? Courtnay Bush, Program Co-ordinator of Attraction, Retention and Transition for MiHR, says it brings huge opportunity. “For those who have the gusto and the enthusiasm, there are going to be some pretty big opportunities to take on roles that perhaps the previous generation wouldn’t have had until later on in their career.”
It also pays well: Sturk says mining is the second highest paying sector in Canada.
Among the serious challenges faced by the industry are the many misconceptions about what it’s like to work in mining.
“For youth, we know there’s a misconception that it’s a really dirty, low-tech industry with not a lot of opportunity,” says Bush. Women are also sometimes discouraged because the perception is that mining is a boys’ club.
“The mining industry has come a long way from its early days,” says Guy Gilron, Director of Environmental Science at Teck Resources, a large Canadian mining company based in Vancouver. “Some of the legacies are not ones that we are necessarily proud of, but much has changed, and most of these changes are significant improvements.”
However, changing people’s perceptions is still a work in progress. When something goes wrong in mining internationally, it can garner a lot of negative media attention.
But Gilron says, “There is a strong focus on good working conditions–specifically, health and safety, and more recently, greater support for work/life balance across all of the various professions within the industry.”
In addition to safety standards, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become an integral part of mining, so much so that it’s even incorporated into the training of engineers. “They’re learning about how to act responsibly to the communities in which they mine, [and] how to build relationships,” says Bush.
These relationships are a key focus in the industry today, not only in Canada, but around the world. Gilron says there has been a significant improvement in the implementation of a wide range of mining practices to support environmental protection, community engagement, and social responsibility. “Interestingly, this has not only come from increasing and evolving government regulations, but also from the establishment of international best practice standards … and industry associations.”
Given these changing dynamics, Bush says she sees a lot of potential for young workers in the industry. “We have now a generation of people who don’t just want a job. I think people want to do some good, they want to feel some value out of the work that they do.”
The best way to do that, says Gilron, is to “work within the industry rather than work against it, and strive to incorporate your personal and professional passions for CSR into the way you conduct your work.”
Bottom line: a career in mining is more than you think.
For more information about starting your career in the mining industry, check out www.acareerinmining.ca.