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By Virginia Heffernan

As mining moves into a new upcycle, the combination of a tight labour supply and a generation more concerned with lifestyle will force Canadian companies to be flexible and creative in their hiring practices.

Long a feature of the Australian mining sector, FIFO working arrangements became more common in Canada during the multi-year supercycle that ended in 2012 as companies scrambled to attract talent using high salaries and generous rotations, but many companies prefer workers to relocate if there is a community associated with the mine (e.g. Flin Flon, Manitoba; Red Lake, Ontario). They’ll have to dangle some extra carrots in order to lure them.

"It helps if the company lays out a career path, perhaps a three-year path with the possibility of promotion at the end," says Chris Stafford, president of C.J. Stafford and Associates, an executive search and recruiting firm. "It’s so important for mining people to have the support of their families and that’s one way to achieve that."

Over the next decade, the industry will need up to 130,000 workers to replace retiring baby boomers and fill new positions in Canada alone, according to the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR). The shortage is particularly acute among professional, physical science and technical occupations.

The gap will be filled by millennials more likely to demand accommodations to both lifestyle and family than their baby boomer counterparts. High housing prices in Canada’s biggest urban centres may also affect location decisions.

"Well-paid roles in smaller communities offer an attractive lifestyle and companies are cognizant of the types of services that are important to their employees, be they educational, medical or recreational," says Stafford, pictured above. "It’s important to understand what the candidate’s family and social needs and wants are."

The demands can vary considerably depending on the individual. For example, Stafford recalls a recruitment situation where the candidate’s wife insisted on flying to the mine community to interview the hockey coach of her son’s potential team before she would commit to a move. Other couples prefer a FIFO arrangement if the partner’s career is tied to the south.

Companies are also beginning to pay more attention to human resources in their own backyards: indigenous communities. Mining is already the largest private sector employer of Aboriginals in Canada and their participation is set to grow as training programs targeted at remote communities bear fruit.

"The progressive companies are realizing that part of the solution is to train the local population," says Stafford. "If companies are not focusing on trying to educate and hire from the community, they are likely to run into serious labour problems."

Stafford says the private sector should also work more closely with colleges and universities to give students practical experience while they pursue degrees. This strategy would help solve the experience gap that is about to emerge as people working in the industry for decades retire, taking their knowledge with them.

"The industry has been dormant since 2012, but this year we’ve seen hundreds of millions of dollars come back into the sector and commodity prices improving. This is creating a huge demand for talent and, with the baby boomers disappearing, it’s going to tax availability. In my opinion, there is a not enough experienced talent to service a growing industry."

More gems from Virginia:

Virginia Heffernan is a former exploration geologist who met her Welsh husband when they were both working on a gold project in Namibia. They live in Toronto with their teenage son. Virginia mostly stays put these days (she's now a freelance writer and member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada), but Roger continues on his global quest for the next big ore deposit. To check out Virginia's work, visit