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Critical mining skills in short supply, says Odgers Berndtson

The COVID-19 pandemic is making finding and retaining skilled and experienced talent more difficult for miners in North America, according to executive search specialist Odgers Berndtson.
Critical mining skills in short supply, says Odgers Berndtson Critical mining skills in short supply, says Odgers Berndtson Critical mining skills in short supply, says Odgers Berndtson Critical mining skills in short supply, says Odgers Berndtson Critical mining skills in short supply, says Odgers Berndtson

Finding and retaining talent is a perennial mining industry challenge

Added to the challenge is the sector just emerging from a protracted bear market, mining and metals practice principal Mary McKenzie told Mining Journal.

"Mining is very cyclical and when we're in downturns, which can be quite extreme, you don't have the volume of students going into those mining-oriented programmes at universities, and as that starts to happen, universities start cutting back on their programme offerings, such as perhaps metallurgy components," she said.

"For me to find a metallurgical student for placement at remote sites is very challenging now, because a lot of the schools are getting rid of these programmes and now you're looking at placing more generalist chemical, process or material engineers in these positions."

Compounding the dilemma is the fact technical staff are usually the first to be let go when times get tough, and these people tend to stay away from mining when market conditions improve. McKenzie has also found this to be true when students graduate during a downturn; they find jobs in other industries and do not come back.

"Later, when they are in their late 20s or early 30s, they may possibly want to return to the industry, but they lack the foundational experience they should have gained early on in their careers. They also have different life circumstances, with a partner, kids and perhaps mortgages to consider when weighing remote placements, which often keep them staying put wherever they might be," she said.

"All the technical roles, including metallurgists, geotechnical rock mechanics and mine engineers are difficult to fill. While many of these roles can be filled on a consulting basis, many of these professionals are loathe to sign up for full-time mining operation placements."

The Toronto-based head hunter also blames the mining industry's general inability to create strong organisational cultures as a barrier to talent acquisition and retention.

"In many cases we are seeing underlying issues creating challenges such as the old-school mentality of more senior incumbents clashing with the expectations of the younger generation," industrial practice head Robert Quinn told Mining Journal.

"There can be issues in terms of lack of trust amongst teams that work together, and even amongst members of a management team that keep data working in silos. So, there's this lack of trust and almost unhealthy competition that needs to be broken down."

McKenzie said leadership was key. "We've got people that have excellent technical skills and come out of the top schools in Canada. And they are great technically, they can build mines, they can run mines, but it's that leadership piece that is seems to be missing," she said.

"Gone are the days where leadership come out of generational mining families and the old-school style of saying it's my way or the highway. The industry is looking for people able to bridge that gap effectively."

Quinn said some mining majors were investing in leadership development programmes, and executive coaching.

Meanwhile, Odgers Berndtson is seeing the encouraging trend of an increasing acceptance of women and minority groups in mining workforces.