We've all heard of Canada's supposed employment shortage, which had pundits suggesting that by 2021, retiring baby boomers would leave a gaping chasm of open job opportunities. We've also heard that in the summer of 2012, it's been harder than ever for young workers to find employment. So, which stat to trust? Well, we're the impatient sort—and promises of a brighter future, from the vantage point of our desks today, doesn't feel sufficient.
But then, on Thursday, July 26th, we received our first bit of good news. As The Globe and Mail reported, we've started to see wage gains outpace inflation rates (well, at least in the month of May). The industries leading the way? According to Statistics Canada, it's oil and gas, quarrying and mining—which saw a nearly 7 per cent jump in employment growth, which saw workers take home an average of nearly $1,800 per week.
This wasn't exactly news to us, of course. In March—two months prior to StatsCan's promising data—Jobpostings.ca originally published this story, correctly identifying mining as a growth industry, in 2021 and beyond. Are we soothsayers? We won't go there. All we're saying is that if you're a fresh grad seeking career opportunities, this one's an industry to watch. -Mark Teo
It's all about the rocks & design
There are plenty of office jobs, but the adventurous ones outside are a lot more scarce. Luckily, the mining industry has these dynamic jobs, and what do you know, they’re hiring. Big time. By 2021, the Mining Industry Human Resources Council estimated that the Canadian mining industry will need to hire 1,370 geologists, geochemists, and geophysicists, as well as 665 mining engineers.
For recent graduates, the news gets better. Mining companies across Canada will be facing management shortages as baby boomers retire. Many positions will open suddenly, leaving room for advancement. And mining companies are preparing for this.
Gillian McCombie, director of Human Resources at Capstone Mining Corporation, has noticed this growing need over the past few years she’s worked in the mining industry. “With the different cycles of mining, we have not necessarily helped build the bench strength as much as we would have liked. Not just our company but companies across mining. Right now we have a gap in talent at the middle-management level, so it’s absolutely critical for employers (to address).
“One of our strategies here at Capstone is to build that bench strength and bring in young, mining graduates, whether it’s mining engineers or geologists.”
Quicker advancement isn’t the only perk on the horizon for geology and mining engineering grads. For starters, it’s not a straightforward office job. Far from it. Literally. There’s an adventurous flavour to these jobs, as a lot of time is spent outdoors, often in remote areas. Chelsea Raley, a fourth-year geology student about to graduate this spring from UBC, has been attracted to geology for a while. “It was the idea that I could work outside all day long for the whole year. I didn’t want to be stuck in an office and this was the first thing that geared me towards that.”
Raley’s not even finished school yet and already has experience in the field. She spent last summer working as a junior geologist, doing soil sampling, talus sampling, prospecting, core teching, and core logging for a gold exploration company.
Geologists, like many workers in the mining industry, have an intensive, concentrated work schedule. Raley said, “I got ten days off all summer, and I was working 12 hours a day, seven days a week. So it’s hard if you have a family. It wasn’t too hard for me because I was working with my buddies, so it didn’t feel so far away from home. But for a lot of people it really gets to them.”
As Raley points out, to work this kind of job you need to get along with people. You’re in tight quarters with the same people for big stretches of time. It’s going to be a long season if you don’t get along. “But the benefits are that you are doing what you love to do all day,” she said. “And it is seasonal work, so you can work five months of the year and have the rest of the year off, if you make enough money. So if you enjoy working hard and playing hard, it’s perfect.”
Working hard in remote locations, don’t forget. Mines aren’t exactly near metropolitan areas, like Toronto or Vancouver. For example, Raley spent her summer working at a mining exploration camp in the Yukon.
Then there are the actual metals and minerals. Young geologists are in luck. Because there is such a demand for geologists, companies don’t necessarily look for geologists with loads of expertise on one specific material. The director, president, and CEO of Avalon Rare Metals, Don Bubar, said, “The basic skills required to be an effective geologist are the same regardless of what commodity you’re looking for.
“We may look for people that have prior experience with those particular geological environments when we’re recruiting for a project such as ours. But these days, given the relative scarcity of geologists, you pretty well have to look for people who have the basics in place and not assign too much importance to having experience in that particular environment.”
The personality of geologists is a high priority when it comes to employers’ hiring requirements. McCombie says it’s not just technical skills employers keep an eye out for. She says individuals need to be very adaptable, flexible, curious, and willing to explore.
The same kind of qualities would make a good mining engineer. McCombie says a mining engineer with both technical and operational experience would be a valuable employee in the mining industry. On the operational side, someone who can effectively lead people and the production on the ground is a valuable asset to their employer. The technical side of a mining engineer’s job is to produce mining designs on the best way to get to the minerals and extract them from the ground. “They’re both very important roles,” says McCombie. “The most successful mining engineers that I’ve come across — who’ve really been able to leverage their careers — are those who’ve had experience on both sides.”
Cindy Burnett, vice president of Investor Relations at Capstone, said, “A design engineer is so much more valuable if they have operation experience. When they come back to their desk and they’re designing a project, they know how it’s going to work on the ground.”
Omar Aboulezz is a third-year mining engineering student at Queen’s University and, like Raley, he already has a summer of valuable experience under his belt. Last summer he worked as a mining engineer intern with Shell.
There are several prospects of being a mining engineer that attracted Aboulezz to pursue this career. “I decided to do mining engineering because the opportunity to travel was a big motivator. There’s a lot of mining all over the world.”
Money was also a factor. The mining industry in general tends to pay very well.
As Aboulezz has become more familiar with the industry, he has discovered even more perks to the industry. “More often than not you’ll find very community-minded, team-oriented people in the mining industry. I worked in Calgary over the summer... I’ve talked to people in a range of ages, throughout the entire industry, and the general consensus is that the personalities this industry draws are very positive and open-minded. That’s the one thing I enjoy the most (about the industry).”
McCombie noted this perk of the industry as well. “There’s always a sense of community that you build in this industry because of the nature of the work, the operations. You meet some wonderful, dynamic, interesting individuals that really help develop and mentor your career.”
So young, future geologists and mining engineers, are you digging your careers yet?