MiHR Innovate: A catalyst for sharing mining HR practices and knowledge

By Lindsay Forcellini, Mining Industry Human Resources Council

In April, the CBJ featured the first in a three-part article series which introduced readers to the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR), the council for the Canadian minerals and metals industry, and MiHR Innovate, a collaborative platform developed by the Council to share knowledge and effective mining HR practices and initiatives. Following this article, July’s issue featured an in-depth look at the practice submitted by Teck Resources Ltd., one of several participating companies, and this month MiHR has connected with Cameco Corporation, Baja Mining Corp. and Vale, a trio of forward-thinking mining companies that have opened up their HR departments, eager to share their take on HR innovation.

Why innovate?

The pending retirement of the baby boom generation, difficulties in attracting and engaging youth and an under-representation of diverse groups paints a challenging ten-year talent forecast for Canada’s mining industry. While the industry has made tremendous strides in addressing these issues, finding experienced and skilled workers is becoming more difficult and competition across sectors of the economy is increasing, according to the Council’s latest report, Canadian Mining Industry Employment and Hiring Forecasts 2011.

Half of the mining workforce will be eligible to retire by 2021, creating a deficit of 75,000 replacement workers in the most pessimistic forecast. A period of relative stability in the sector will see that number balloon to 112,000 as demand for natural resources increases. By taking a proactive and innovative approach to address the HR challenge, companies like Cameco, Baja and Vale are sharing their innovative HR practices with all mining employers and adopting new strategies, initiatives and tailored HR solutions to meet the needs of their own talent and hiring requirements.

Cameco Corporation

Developing relationships with academia

Cameco is one of the world’s largest uranium producers, focusing on clean electricity, and a leading provider of the processing services required to produce fuel for nuclear power plants. With operations in Saskatchewan and Ontario, the US and Kazakhstan and development projects in Australia, Cameco is recognized as one of the top employers in Canada with over 3,300 global employees and is the largest industrial employer of Aboriginal Canadians.

The growing demand for clean energy poses scientific challenges for Cameco and the nuclear industry. Strengthening ties between academia and industry has the potential to address some of these challenges. In support of this objective, Cameco’s Innovation & Technology Development (I&TD) department has established the Sabbatical Program for Academics, which gives researchers and scientists from universities the opportunity to conduct research at Cameco operations each year. The arrangement allows professionals and academics from post-secondary education institutions a chance to work and collaborate with technical personnel at Cameco’s facilities.

Sean Junor, Manager, Workforce Planning and Talent Acquisition at Cameco, says the program is directly linked to the company’s long-term strategy to significantly increase production by 2018.

“It allows us exposure and access to a different segment of workers and invites us into a different conversation. We learn more about what is going on in the world of academia and researchers have the opportunity to apply their work in an industry setting. The benefits are twofold; the program broadens our attraction and potential recruitment net and strengthens and/or develops the relationships we have with academic institutions,” Junor explains.

Researchers spend up to one year in the program working on a problem of interest to both Cameco and the researcher, with an end goal of a portfolio of potential projects that the researcher will take back to university. 

Michael Murchie, Director, Research Centre at Cameco Technology and Innovation, says the key to the program’s success is the dedicated time it allows a researcher to spend with Cameco.

“We are always meeting with researchers from different universities, but in a short time span, it’s hard to connect; you need time to establish a relationship. It’s about researchers getting to know our challenges and Cameco getting to know their capabilities,” he explains.

This portfolio of focused project ideas creates a link for continued collaboration, the development of highly qualified personnel (HQP), the promotion of science and engineering and the promotion of the mining industry.

Cameco has had four sabbatical researchers to date, from a wide range of backgrounds:

University of Saskatchewan – materials science research in zirconium alloys

Trent University – environmental science investigation in water and effluent treatment

University of Ontario Institute of Technology– robotics and mechatronics

University of Toronto – human factors engineering (human-automation interface)

Following the program, two researchers are continuing to work with Cameco.

Since the program is in its early stages, Junor explains the main focus now is collaborating from an HR perspective to grow in uptake, as the program can accommodate up to 12 researchers at one time.

“The ability to measure the program’s outcome will come later on, when we have a cohort in and have some time to reflect on how it is assisting our month-to-month or week-to week-activities. Are the researchers doing things our employees couldn’t do? Do we have access to a unique, diversified set of skills we didn’t have access to before? These are the types of questions we’ll be asking,” says Junor.

Baja Mining Corp.

Adapting to a multi-cultural environment

Baja Mining Corp. (Baja) is a Vancouver based mining company that is currently transforming itself into a producer. Baja and a consortium of Korean companies own the Boleo Project, a large polymetallic property, with near-term production and a long mine life, located in Baja California Sur, Mexico.

In 2010, when Baja started recruitment activities to focus on attracting talent for its operations, talent requirements were identified and profiles emphasizing technical and soft skills were created. Due to the international location of the project, profiles included candidates with previous international experience, exposure to Latin-American cultures and fluency in Spanish.

When recruiting for these positions, Maria-Luisa Sinclair, Baja’s Director of Human Resources, explains HR faced the predicament of either recruiting for technical or soft skills; due to the importance of attracting seasoned experts in each area, technical skills prevailed. To fill in the soft skills gap, Baja’s HR team designed and implemented an Intercultural Sensitivity Program to assist in providing employees with the tools they need to effectively adapt to the new cultures they would be exposed to.

“A lack of cultural awareness can lead to costly delays, misunderstandings and, often, personal frustration on the part of the communicators,” Sinclair explains.
Training in intercultural communication assists businesses and individuals in achieving their goals in negotiation, decision-making, strategic planning and collaboration as successful teams. It addresses perceptions, cultural profiles, contrasts and differences and how these can be better managed to ensure successful outcomes.

Baja’s intercultural training is facilitated in sessions of two days. The first day introduces participants to cross-cultural research and theory and the next day, participants receive a personalized report and are guided through its contents to learn how they interact with individuals from different cultures and how to modify such interactions in order to become more successful in the workplace. 

Baja has delivered two workshops so far, one at its site in Santa Rosalia, Baja California Sur, Mexico, and one at the Vancouver office. Sinclair says the response from employees has been positive.

“The program was well received. It generated quite a bit of exchange among participants, as well as a willingness to learn more about how each person is perceived by others from different cultural settings. The majority of participants agreed that the session was of interest and relevant to their work.”

Sinclair says Baja is confident that this initiative will provide attendants with a better understanding of their own behaviours within different cultural settings and how such behaviours can be adapted to become better communicators and more efficient in their roles in foreign locations.


A global approach to charting employee career paths

Vale is the second largest mining company in the world, one of the 30 largest publicly traded companies in the world and the largest private sector company in Latin America. Vale has a market capitalization of around US$ 170 billion, with approximately 500,000 shareholders from all continents and is the world’s largest producer of iron ore and iron ore pellets, key raw materials for steelmaking, and the world’s second largest producer of nickel.

As an international company with a global workforce, Vale has recognized the importance of effective human resources strategies linked to the company’s corporate goals with the tools and processes in place to retain talented people, mitigate the risk of knowledge loss and fully leverage the collective skill set.
In 2008, in support of these objectives, Vale launched an innovative program for carry-on succession. The Career and Succession Planning (CSP) process is a global technology-driven system that enables collaboration and identification of potential candidates for succession at most levels of management. This initiative is helping Vale address the skills shortage by focusing on professional development to retain its employees.

“We recognize that many areas of our business are booming. The traditional methods to attract employees are no longer sufficient,” explains Tito Martins, CEO of Vale in Canada and Executive Director of Vale’s Base Metals business. “Vale’s main talent management focus is to retain and develop our own employees. The CSP process enables us to ‘grow our own,’ sourcing talent from within the organization.”

Through the CSP process, the company is able to gain a holistic, global view of its workforce and identify successors for individuals in many management levels by searching for strong contenders among potential internal candidates. This is achieved through an annual in-depth performance-evaluation process consisting of a team, manager, clients and peers review whereby a 360-degree assessment of an individual’s performance is conducted against core competencies.
“The Career and Succession system has significantly enhanced our ability to fill roles globally and to provide our employees and managers with a system that supports discussions about development opportunities, competencies and talent needs,” Martins affirms.

The results of these assessments are analyzed and fed into a globally accessible software database (CSP) that enables Vale to effectively identify potential successors. These are people who might be peers at the same level, or subordinates at lower levels. They might be immediately promotable, or identified as potentially suitable for a more senior position within the next two to five years.

“We can envision the CSP system encompassing our full workforce in a few years. Ironing out the kinks at each phase (before rushing into full expansion) is the key to a successful implementation. We always look at the business needs as the main driver for any HR program,” he adds.

The CSP process has been successful at Vale and positively received.

“Developing our people to ensure they are successful in their roles is critical to our organizational success,” Martins explains.

From work environment and culture, to learning and professional development, by collaborating with MiHR, these companies are industry leaders that are helping to support Canada’s mining industry through the sharing of knowledge, experience and ideas. If you are interested in joining the discussion, please join the Canadian Mining HR Innovators and Professionals group on LinkedIn.

For more information on the MiHR Council, click here. For details on MiHR Innovate, or to view the complete collection of practices, click here.