Making critical connections: The races for minerals and talent
The Covid-19 pandemic, economic and political turbulence, as well as the growing urgency of the climate crisis have transformed how we think about our economies and our societies. The policy choices governments make today will determine our success in building a greener, more inclusive, and more resilient tomorrow. In 2022, Ontario announced its first-ever critical minerals strategy, thus, setting in motion decisive action on climate change and charting an ambitious path that empowers Ontarians to face the future with hope and confidence.
Mining is fundamental to driving the transformational changes that will create long-term value for Ontario communities, while building a low-carbon economy at home and abroad. The government’s strategy recognizes that there is a generational opportunity to build economic development opportunities with local communities and Indigenous partners in 2023 and beyond, while decarbonizing our economy, strengthening Ontario’s mining-to-manufacturing supply chain, and contributing to the global fight against climate change.
“Retaining and replacing the current workforce and attracting workers with the critical skills needed for an ever-changing and technology-intensive working environment requires a radical rethink of our approach.”
The race to reach global net-zero emissions – a.k.a. the green revolution – represents the greatest market transformation – with the greatest economic promise – since the industrial revolution. A World Bank Group report, Minerals for climate action: the mineral intensity of the clean energy transition, finds that the production of minerals, such as graphite, lithium, and cobalt, could increase by nearly 500% by 2050 to meet the growing demand for clean energy technologies. It estimates that over three billion tonnes of minerals and metals will be needed to deploy wind, solar, and geothermal power, as well as energy storage, required for achieving a below 2°C future.
The Ontario Mining Association (OMA), in partnership with the Ministry of Mines, released two reports, The state of the Ontario mining sector – Economic report and Critical minerals analysis, which show that the minerals found in Ontario create an opportunity for the province to build a strong domestic mining-to-manufacturing supply chain and be a key player in the global energy transition. Mining is one of the few sectors in the Ontario economy in which we can claim to be a global leader. Ontario miners and suppliers are driving innovation to address productivity and safety, as well as environmental, social, and governance (ESG) priorities, including reducing or eliminating emissions and waste at their operations. We have the fundamentals to succeed, but we will be competing with jurisdictions across Canada, allied nations, and indeed the whole world, to feed the decarbonization-driven commodity super cycle. Throughout our evolution to where we are today as leaders in responsible mining, our people have been our strength. At this critical moment, we need new generations of talent to compete.
Canada’s mining industry will require about 80,000 to 120,000 new hires by 2030, according to the Mining Industry Human Resources Council. The labour shortage will become even more acute, as there will be a sustained demand for jobs in mining over the next three decades, as global decarbonization efforts and electrification trends gather momentum and drive the need for more mines and more mineral processing capacity. The current labour shortage is driven by three main factors: a wave of retirements as baby boomers age; resignations caused by behavioural changes, as people rethink their priorities and expectations due to the pandemic; a decrease in the number of graduates with advanced degrees in STEM fields, and fewer people qualified in skilled trades.
Many are simply unaware of the opportunities. The Ontario mining sector offers safe, well-paying, stable jobs. The average weekly wage in Ontario mining is 70% higher than the average industrial wage in the province, with mine workers and mining support workers averaging a weekly salary of $1,900. Between 2001 and 2019, earnings for mining and quarrying grew by 66%, while earnings for mining support activities grew 80%. Jobs in our sector remained stable during the Covid-19 pandemic, with mining being declared essential and companies taking effective action to protect workers’ health and safety. Indeed, mining is one of the safest industries in Ontario. From 1975 to 2010, the Ontario mining industry achieved a 96% improvement in lost time injury frequency, making Ontario one of the safest jurisdictions for mining in the world. We are working toward zero harm, with a steadfast commitment across the entire industry that everyone goes home safe at the end of the shift.
Moreover, OMA members are focused on making the industry more inclusive and diversifying the labour pool by increasing the participation of women, immigrants, Indigenous people, and workers from other industries who have transferable skills. We are encouraged by the government actively seeking solutions to address the labour shortage, including through the implementation of Ontario’s Skilled Trades Strategy. More needs to be done to encourage people to commit to education and career pathways in mining.
Retaining and replacing the current workforce and attracting workers with the critical skills needed for an ever-changing and technology-intensive working environment requires a radical rethink of our approach. It necessitates correcting outdated perceptions of mining, as the OMA has been striving to do through interactive outreach campaigns, such as #ThisIsMining, and doing more to highlight the appeal of careers in mining operations, which are located outside big urban areas, such as the GTA (see for example, OMA’s #ThisIsMinining Adventure).
When it comes to choosing careers, people are driven by different motivators. These can include financial gain, personal and professional interests, and lifestyle considerations. One element that is increasingly appealing to jobseekers is finding a way to positively change society while earning a living. Mining ticks all these boxes. It is the perfect place for values-driven, solution-oriented individuals who are enthusiastic about the environment and want to play an active part in the green revolution, while making a good life for themselves and their loved ones. In its critical minerals strategy, the government of Ontario outlines its intentions to grow the labour supply and develop a skilled labour force. We see great promise in working with the government and other partners on creating a refreshed approach to retaining and attracting mining talent – one that transforms how people think about mining.
Chris Hodgson is the president of the Ontario Mining Association.