Iamgold’s Essakane gold mine in Burkina Faso.
In 2006, Zeliya Tamboura left home and family behind in Ouagadougou – capital of the landlocked west African nation of Burkina Faso – to study abroad. Her studies took her to Paris, Minnesota, Montreal and Texas before she started her career in Austin, Texas as a partner manager with Facebook. But in early 2018 she made a move that may well have surprised many of her youthful colleagues at the social media giant.
She took a position as a deputy communication superintendent with Toronto-based Iamgold and returned to Burkina Faso to promote the company’s Essakane mine.
“The lives of many rural people have been changed thanks to mining and, in the case of Iamgold Essakane, I can see the positive impact on the people of Burkina Faso,” Tamboura says. “My mind is always trying to find creative ways to educate people on the benefits of mining.”
That Tamboura found her way from Austin to Ouagadougou and from the social media sector to mining was no accident. Iamgold and several other large Canadian mining companies, as well as industry associations such as the Canadian Institute of Mining and the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MIHRC), have launched a number of initiatives to recruit younger workers – or millennials, they are commonly known.
These efforts are critical to the future of the industry. “We have a very old workforce,” says Ryan Montpellier, executive director of MIHRC. “We forecast that about forty per cent of the people currently working for Canadian mining companies won’t be employed in the sector in ten years.”
The Canadian industry employs some 200,000 people worldwide, meaning that a staggering 80,000 workers will depart within a decade – mostly due to retirement.
However, the industry faces some significant challenges when it comes to renewing its workforce. Most mines are located in rural or remote locations – out of sight and out of mind for young people raised in a highly urbanized country like Canada.
“There’s a disconnect between people living in urban centres and the reality of mining,” Montpellier says. “There’s a remarkable breadth of career opportunities in the industry. We track 120 different occupations in mining and that includes everything from engineers and equipment operators to pilots and environmentalists.”
Diversity is another issue. Mining has traditionally been a male dominated industry and it remains so. Currently, only 17% of the employees in Canadian mining companies are women and most are employed in finance, human resources and administration.
At the mine level, women represent only 5% of workers.
Iamgold is tackling these issues head on and has achieved considerable success. Alex Teijeira, vice-president of human resources, says that millennials now constitute 52% of the company’s full-time workforce of 4,800. Although the company says its gender diversity is on par with benchmark, female new hires are between 20-60% and women represent about 40% of employees at the Toronto head offic and the company’s other urban office in Longueuil, Que., Ouagadougou and Paramaribo in Suriname, where Iamgold operates the Rosebel mine.
Teijeira says the company has succeeded in attracting millennials by branding itself in a way that appeals to that generation.
“Human resources research shows that millennials are driven by purpose,” he notes. “We’ve had to demonstrate that what we’re doing has a positive impact on society.”
Iamgold has been marketing itself through the website LinkedIn and, to a lesser extent, Facebook. Through those channels, the company emphasizes its commitment to health and safety, sustainability and corporate social responsibility.
“Every social media post has links to our initiatives in those areas,” adds Dorena Quinn, global director, head of talent. “That has driven an increase in receptiveness to joining our organization.”
Besides social media marketing, Iamgold hires students on internships, co-op work placements and summer work terms.
The company also holds symposiums during the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s annual convention in early March and senior leaders address potential employees.
Job fairs have also proven to be an effective tool and, in some cases, the company has targeted young people who have left their home countries to study abroad. As it happened, Tamboura was ready to return to Burkina Faso and she learned that mining was booming back home.
“I started to look for opportunities in that sector,” she says.
“I seized the opportunity to participate in the job fair Iamgold organizes each year in Canada.”
Toronto-based Agnico Eagle Mines is another large Canadian gold miner that is aggressively pursuing the next generation
of miners. The company has a direct workforce of 6,100, which jumps to 6,800 when students or others on temporary work assignments are included.
Over the past year or two, the company has recruited whole new teams of generally younger workers to operate its new Meliadine and Meadowbank’s Amaruq satellite mines in Nunavut, both of which went into production in 2019.
Agnico Eagle has staffed these operations with a mix of local residents as well as others who primarily fly in and fly out from the Kivalluq region in Nunavut, Montreal and Val-D’Or on two-week rotations.
“We’ve been able to attract people because we have a very good story to tell,”
says Keith Harris-Lowe, vice-president, people.
“We have a long history as a successful and growing company. We also have a collaborative and inclusive culture we show to prospective employees.”
Only 16% of the company’s workforce are women, but Harris-Lowe says Agnico Eagle is working hard to attract more women in professional, technical and non-traditional roles with some noteworthy successes. For example, women are being hired in Nunavut and at its mines in Mexico to drive the heavy trucks that haul ore from the mines to milling facilities.
“A number of us have noted that women equipment operators rarely have accidents and tend to work more safely than the average, Harris-Lowe says. As a result, some Agnico managers emphasize hiring women in these roles.
Agnico Eagle is also participating in Gearing Up, a federal program that offers mining companies subsidies of up to $7,000 a year for each student hired under an internship or co-op placement.
Ottawa announced a substantial increase in funding in the 2019 budget, which will allow companies hire 850 students over the next four years.
MIHRC has developed a number of programs designed to entice the next generation and to increase the number of women working in mining. Montpellier says the council’s Gender Equity in Mining program, or GEM for short, includes tools delivered online or in-person to help senior leaders identify and address systemic barriers that discourage women from considering a mining career. To date, 10 large companies have taken advantage of the initiative.
Montpellier adds that the council has held two virtual job fairs for secondary and post-secondary students and they have attracted over 1,000 students. He notes that the Canadian Institute of Mining, as well as several provincial mining associations, have developed videos, online quizzes and other tools to raise awareness of careers in mining among high school students. These organizations are also communicating with guidance counsellors to make them aware of the career opportunities.
“There are no shortages of initiatives underway to promote the modern mining industry in Canada today,” Montpellier says.
And those efforts are beginning to change some of the negative but outdated perceptions of the industry, says Harris-Lowe. “People are starting to see that the work we do is not what it used to be,” he says. “Mining today is highly technological. That’s going to attract people as we get the word out.”