New study reveals mining companies are exploring alternatives, like dual-career paths, to retain knowledge workers

Dual-career development paths are being adopted by mining companies to retain knowledge workers as the global competition for talent becomes more fierce, according to a new study, released by the Mining Industry Human Resources Council, in...

Dual-career development paths are being adopted by mining companies to retain knowledge workers as the global competition for talent becomes more fierce, according to a new study, released by the Mining Industry Human Resources Council, in partnership with the Canada Mining Innovation Council.

The two organizations have joined forces to publish Making the Grade: Human Resources Challenges and Opportunities for Knowledge Workers in Canadian Mining." Knowledge" workers are a key segment of the mining sector's workforce and play an essential role in research and innovation. A significant proportion of this group is now nearing retirement age which could lead to a devastating loss of both specialist knowledge and leadership in the sector.

Knowledge workers are typically defined as people who are highly educated, technologically savvy, and engaged in work that leads to the creation of knowledge and innovation. They apply theory and factual knowledge quickly and creatively to solve complex problems with shifting parameters. "Despite their importance, the industry lacks key information about this segment of the workforce throughout all phases of the mining cycle" says Dr Martha Roberts, Director of Research at the Mining Industry Human Resources Council. "Making the Grade aims to bridge this gap, helping to create a better understanding of knowledge workers and enable industry partners to become more proactive and strategic in workforce planning" she adds. Examples of knowledge worker occupations include: engineers, geoscientists, financial analysts, health and safety professionals, business professionals, management, etc.

Key findings

Targeting a younger audience: Study findings illustrated that employer outreach to younger audiences is seen as one key to future attraction of knowledge workers. The number of people connected through social media is increasing at an exponential rate, particularly among younger generations. Organizations are increasingly turning to social-media campaigns for recruitment, awareness and branding opportunities.

Expanding student outreach: Seventy-seven per cent of students in non-mining-related programs expressed interest in working in the mining and exploration sector in Canada. However, interviews with employees and academics indicated that campus recruiting efforts focus largely on mining-related programs. A potential source of talent may be found in increasing number of international students enrolled at Canadian universities - by 2010, about 90,000 full-time and 13,000 part-time international students studied on Canadian campuses. As international students are far more likely to study knowledge worker disciplines like business, engineering and math, they represent an important talent pool for the mining and exploration sector.

Skilled immigrants and new Canadians: A continued decline in fertility rates, coupled with an aging population, mean that highly skilled immigrants will grow in importance to organizations looking to fill knowledge worker skills gaps. While mining and exploration is currently competitive compared to other sectors in attracting immigrant knowledge workers, the sector must increase its efforts to tap into this talent pool in the coming years. Despite the growing importance of skilled immigrants in driving innovation and performance, many still face barriers to successful integration into the Canadian labour market, with the main challenge being costly and time consuming foreign credential recognition procedures.

 Retention and engagement: Dual-career development paths involve the creation of alternate advancement paths for technical and managerial employees. The primary goal of this type of development approach is to enable greater advancement possibilities for highly skilled technical employees who might otherwise plateau too early within their area of specialty.

 Typically, in a dual-career path, technical employees who do not wish to move into management are given the opportunity for increased responsibilities in the technical sphere. This is not always the case, however, as there are examples of dual-career paths in which both streams eventually lead to executive positions. Organizations considering implementing dual-career paths need to ensure that people in both development streams receive equivalent treatment-in terms of progression through the path, salary increases and "respect" from the organization. Otherwise, organizations are left with a system in which one path is seen as inherently unattractive, and it fails to retain its highly skilled knowledge workers.

 Knowledge workers as innovators

 Canada's Innovation Strategy recognizes that innovation and knowledge will play a significant role in the sustainability of the Canadian economy. According to Industry Canada, as Canada's human capital shrinks and ages, the sustainability of the Canadian economy will be partially dependent on its ability to shift towards a leaner knowledge-based economy.

 "Innovation has been repeatedly linked to economic progress, and there is a direct relationship between innovation and skilled and talented human resources" says Thomas Hynes, Executive Director of the Canada Mining Innovation Council. "There are many ways to innovate, yet resource-based industries tend to focus on extraction-process innovation ahead of product innovation. A recent study of Canadian innovation performance found that Canada has a reasonably good rate of innovation for products but is relatively weak in process innovation; so this is a possible area of growth for knowledge workers in mining" Mr Hynes reasons.

 Canadian mining industry stakeholders generally believe that Canada has lost ground in recent years as other countries have poured more money and resources into research and development. The knowledge workers' role as 'innovator' is therefore defined in the overarching national innovation strategy, and is further supported in the Canadian mining industry context.

 Making the Grade: Human Resources Challenges and Opportunities for Knowledge Workers in Canadian Mining can be accessed at To request a print copy, please contact MiHR at (613) 270-9696 or



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