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Attracting workers to mining remains a challenge, say recruiters

Skilled workers in high demand for Northern Ontario's booming industry

Stacey Rodel admits that, before joining Kirkland Lake Gold (KL Gold) four years ago, her knowledge of the mining industry was limited.

Dirty, hard manual labour, and a low-skilled workforce with few chances for career development – that was her perception of the sector.

“What I quickly learned upon joining Kirkland Lake Gold was this is not at all what mining is, in any shape or form,” said Rodel, the company's human resources business partner.

Instead, she said, she found a sector brimming with opportunity, offering a highly diverse array of career paths, an emphasis on worker safety, and a strong commitment to community.

“Our goal is to invest in and retain employees who want to work and live in Northern Ontario.”

Speaking as a panellist about the workforce needs of mining companies operating in the North, Rodel was one of several participants in the Mining the Abitibi Greenstone Belt tradeshow, held virtually June 2-3.

The two-day event, hosted by Canadian Trade-Ex, replaced The Big Event mining show, which annually attracts hundreds of participants to Timmins to share best practices, learn about new equipment and technology, and tune in as industry leaders share their predictions for the future of the sector.

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One of the North's leading gold mining companies, KL Gold owns and operates the Macassa Mine at Kirkland Lake as well as the Detour Lake Mine north of Cochrane.

Right now, Rodel said, some of KL Gold's most critical needs are for experienced production and development miners, licensed electricians, mechanics, geologists, and geologists in training.

The company offers competitive wages, benefits and pension packages, and lots of training and development opportunities, she noted.

To be considered, recruiters look for applicants with a keen focus on safety – for themselves, for their coworkers, and for those around them, Rodel said.

Good communication skills, self-awareness, and a commitment to the job are also important hallmarks of a good employee.

"Do you just show up and do the bare minimum and essentially pencil whip on your five-point safety card and just jot it down, or do you actively engage in it and put your thought and your effort into it?” she asked. “Are you committed to the role?”

Those soft skills mirror the core values at Technica Mining, where recruiters consider an applicant's character and interpersonal skills as much as their technical aptitude.

“We are looking for people with skill sets that can do the work, but people that align with the core values of the company is huge for us,” said Stephan Mayotte, Technica's internal recruitment coordinator.

“Somebody that has really strong core values will show up (in the recruitment process) just as well, if not better, than somebody who has all the experience in the world. It takes more than just experience to get a job done.”

Based in Sudbury, the contracting company provides construction, development and surface drilling services for mine sites across the North and beyond.

Through their divisions, they employ people in technical roles, trades, and administration. Many of the students Technica has brought in for support roles now work full time at the company.

Like KL Gold, Technica provides internal training and development opportunities to help employees advance their skills, including those who have skills acquired in other sectors that can be transferred to mining.

“We have a lot of success with moving people up internally, whether it's directly in line with the career they're in right now, whether it's moving over into another discipline and trying something else,” Mayotte said.

“We don't limit anybody. We give everybody that chance to move up.”

But when it comes to attracting new talent, Mayotte believes the industry does itself a disservice in its relatively low-key promotional efforts about the opportunities available.

“I think the perception, or the information out about mining, is what I think we're lacking as an industry, and it's certainly something we're all working on,” Mayotte said. 

“But it's not everybody that knows that you can have that good career in mining.”

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At The Bucket Shop in Timmins, the fabrication and welding shop takes a three-pronged approach to finding skilled workers.

In operation since 1989, the company repairs and manufactures buckets, truck boxes and other components for heavy equipment used in the mining sector from its 85,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility.

The Bucket Shop welcomes people who have a ‘growth mindset’ and are eager to stretch their talents beyond welding or millwrighting to learn about other aspects of the industry or the business itself, said Jamieson Pouw, the company's business optimization lead.

“We look for people that have a career with purpose,” he said. “We'd like people to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, not simply come in, make some sparks, and head home.

“We’ve tried to create an environment that’s a fun place to work and has a lot of future opportunities with it as well.”

But recruitment of those workers remains a challenge.

Pouw spoke of the “mismatch” between the types of jobs that need to be filled compared with the types of jobs people are being trained to do.

Citing research from the Far Northeast Training Board, Pouw noted that, in Northern Ontario, roughly 40 per cent of the jobs available are within the skilled trades, and yet only 26 per cent of those potential jobs have people in a postsecondary curriculum that could fill them.

“The school system trains lots of doctors, lawyers, teachers and nurses, but there may not be jobs when you graduate,” Pouw said. “Whereas, if we could train 40 per cent of students in skilled trades, that would be a virtual guarantee of jobs at the end of your educational career.”

In addition to training and promoting people in-house, The Bucket Shop works with Keepers of the Circle, an urban Indigenous hub, on a unique program that recruits, trains, and employs Indigenous women as shop welders.

Despite those efforts, the company has also had to look abroad for skilled workers to fill the gaps.

After trying to recruit locally, with disappointing results, The Bucket Shop recently worked with recruiting firm IVEY Group to attract, interview and hire six welders.

In May, the first two arrived from Ukraine and more are set to arrive shortly.

“There are job opportunities, and if there were more local people, we’d hire as many as we could,” Pouw said. “But demand is so high, we’ve actually had to go outside of Canada.”