Attracting the Best and Brightest to Mining

The need for the mining industry to attract a strong workforce in the decades ahead remains a critical topic and I think it’s something that bears emphasizing.  The growth potential is such that in Canada alone the industry will need over 145,000 workers by 2023, according to the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR)

A report released last November looked at the ability of the industry to access workers with the necessary skills when an economic upswing takes place.  The shortage in skilled tradespeople is exacerbated by a lack of recruitment over the past five years. That only increases pressure on an already thin labour supply.  It also hampers the resurgence of the industry to previous production and employment levels. 

That’s why this is such an important issue to raise.

The Mining Industry Human Resources Council also estimates that the pool of available talent will not be enough to meet the industry’s needs by 2023 — that’s only six years away.

The challenge of attracting skilled workers to our industry presents both a challenge and an opportunity.  For those looking for a growth industry, it’s a great opportunity to enter a field where your skills will be valued and well compensated. Given the need for workers, mining will offer security that is lacking in other fields. The jobs run the gamut from engineers to geologists, to health and safety professionals and many other trades. 

Admittedly, mining was not my first choice when I completed my studies. After earning my MBA, I joined Hudson Bay Mining as a financial analyst. I didn’t have long-term plans as far as working in the mining industry is concerned until I realized what a tremendous entrepreneurial opportunity this industry could be.

It’s also worthwhile to note that there are ongoing innovations in mining which hold great promise and are tremendously exciting, advances such as sensor-driven autonomous mining machines and developments in the microbiology of minerals.  The technological advancements and possible applications in the area of robotics are also very exciting.

There are excellent training courses available for those wanting to get into mining available through the Canadian Mining Certification Program (CMCP).  The CMCP is a national program that certifies the skills and competencies of mine workers. Those positions include miners and drillers. There are also certified courses and programs offered by EduMine.

The field offers plenty of opportunities for personal growth. This industry is not for everyone, but I can say from experience that it offers many enriching opportunities for growth. My goal here once again is to remind everyone of some of those exciting opportunities.

Three tips for effective leaders

There are few things greater than the feeling you get building and leading a successful business. Throughout my career, I have had the pleasure of establishing and growing a variety of mining firms into successful companies and I have also lead some not so successful ones.

While this feeling of accomplishment is grand, it is only dwarfed by the amount of gratitude that leaders must feel and show the dedicated team of professionals they work with. This includes the executive team, managerial staff and employees; in short, the people who are able to take your corporate vision and make it reality. 

Over the last 30 years, I have learned some valuable lessons when it comes to being an effective and efficient leader. I have also witnessed leaders in other sectors exhibit truly admirable leadership skills.

Ian Telfer’s 3 leadership tips

Building a team

Building the right team is as important as building a successful business.

No man is an island, as the old adage goes.  Which is why in order for a business to achieve full potential it needs a robust team of executives who are able to bring unique skill sets and perspectives to the boardroom.

Don’t be afraid to delegate

The ability to wisely and effectively delegate is a quality less talked about than others and yet it’s crucial to a leader’s success. Too many business leaders want to micromanage and oversee every detail of the company, which can delay important deadlines and leave the executive team feeling undervalued.

A leader should be in charge of the overall direction of the business.  They are looking ahead, steering the course, and making needed corrections to avoid getting off track. A leader who is too caught up in every minutia of the company is apt to lose sight of the big picture and may even fail to see that their company has veered off course until it is too late.

It’s also been proven that leaders who give important responsibilities to their team and employees, along with the freedom to complete the task their way, foster a positive and healthy workplace. Additionally, this builds team innovation and idea levels, morale, and overall satisfaction.

Assigning responsibilities and delegating work establishes levels of trust that are crucial when working in any business environment.

Foster open communication

It’s important to let business teams feel free to share results and findings with you. Communication is also key to ensuring your team is able to fulfill their assignments and responsibilities. Being able to clearly and succinctly describe what you want done is very important. If you can’t relate your vision to your team, you won’t all be working toward the same goal.

From my experience, if you want an organization to succeed, you and your team have to master the art of clear inter-communication. In my opinion, implementing well-organized paths that facilitate easy group communication and collaboration improves the likelihood that a given business will enjoy success.

Finding equilibrium between shareholders and business realities

The relationship between a public company and its shareholders can be a tenuous one at times. While both interests want the company to achieve success, each have a unique view as to how success should be gained and within what timeframe.

This difference of opinion is often magnified in the mining sector, where more often than not it takes years to see a return on investment for any given mining project.  This can create tension between mining executives and shareholders, one further complicated when shareholders are pension funds and money management firms.

To put it fairly simply, shareholders are looking for consistent growth in terms of capital and production because it translates into favourable fiscal projections. However, when it takes five to ten years for a mine to start producing ore, there’s a timeframe difference that can sometimes produce tension.

I briefly touched on this issue when I addressed Laurentian University in early 2015 (see Ian Telfer: Top 10 Mining Mistakes). As I explained, in my experience I have found keeping shareholder interest in mind is important.  However, it is equally important to find a balance between their more short-term goals and a mining company’s sustainable future. Increased pressure to focus on shareholder needs can skew perspectives and lead to hasty business decisions, poor strategic planning, and acquisitions or divestitures that backfire later.

More importantly, shareholders are compensated based on short-term price performance rather than long-term business feasibility, which can misalign the interests of both management and current shareholders with the true welfare of the company.

In the mining sector, there is often a tug-of-war between management and shareholders over the company’s capital. Investors often view extra cash on a company’s balance sheet as a possible return to shareholders in the form of cash dividends, which in turn is looked favorable by markets.

However, the company’s management teams can be hesitant to do this, and rightly so. This is because management teams are committed to sustained growth and may want to use additional capital to invest in new mining projects. Re-investing capitals in new mining initiatives is sometimes not at the top of shareholders priority list.

By no means am I saying that shareholders aren’t valued, but as my history in the mining sector has shown me, they are only one component of a much larger picture that includes the management team, the employees, the shareholders and the community. Finding the right balance between appeasing shareholder demands and promoting and protecting the future of a company is paramount in order to achieve long lasting sustainability no matter what sector or industry.