March/April 2011

HR Outlook

Recognizing and retaining talent: Certification becomes a reality for mining workers in industry pilot

By Barbara Kirby

Dawn Hamilton taking a chemical readout on rock samples in the chemical lab for the Iron Ore Company of Canada. Minerals processing operator is one of four occupations for which National Occupational Standards have been developed through the CMCP | Courtesy of MiHR

Over the past six years, MiHR has been coordinating a collaborative effort by mining sector employers, employees, educators and other stakeholders to develop a program that will recognize the knowledge, skills and competencies of its mine operations maintenance workers. Unlike the trades, skilled workers in these occupations have never before been awarded an industry-recognized credential that supports mobility and retention within the mining workforce; the Canadian Mining Credentials Program (CMCP) has been developed to address this challenge.

During 2010, seven mine sites across Canada participated in the Certification Pilot Program:

  • Brunswick Mine (Xstrata Zinc), Bathurst, New Brunswick
  • Totten Mine (Vale), Sudbury, Ontario, and Trout Lake Mine (HudBay Minerals), Manitoba (partner: Cementation)
  • Diavik Diamond Mine (Rio Tinto), Northwest Territories
  • Greenhills Operation (Teck Coal), British Columbia
  • Kemess South Mine (Northgate Minerals Corp.), British Columbia
  • Highland Valley Copper (Teck Resources), British Columbia

These pilot sites will be conducting 10 to 20 evaluations each and it is anticipated that a group of between 60 and 100 miners will become the first nationally certified Underground Miners, Surface Miners and Minerals Processing Operators. A pan-Canadian rollout will commence in mid-2011, beginning with a series of local events to recognize the first group of certified workers, and leading up to a national event, which will take place this coming May at the CIM Conference & Exhibition 2011 in Montreal.

Of the approximately 100,000 workers needed by the end of this decade to support growth in the industry and to replace retiring workers, approximately 20 per cent will be required in skilled occupations that have, up until now, lacked a national recognition system (including production miners, development miners, heavy equipment operators and mill operators).

The certification program will be an essential component in increasing and retaining the valuable skills required to keep the mining industry sustainable. Without a formal credentialing framework for these jobs, employers may struggle to evaluate the qualifications of experienced candidates and may end up wasting time and resources retraining new hires in areas where they have already demonstrated competency in the workplace. Furthermore, employees with skill sets that are not recognized by their industry can become frustrated and may seek opportunities elsewhere. A recent MiHR survey of mining industry employers revealed that turnover in these occupations is almost twice as high as other mining sector jobs.

“As a national representative, I saw that the expertise and knowledge that miners had accumulated wasn’t recognized,” says Walter Manning, national representative, communications, Energy and Paper Workers. “I certainly heard from the shop floor that workers wanted recognition for their skills, and the credentials program will do that.”

The vision of the CMCP is to increase recognition of skills and competencies, support worker mobility and create consistent, quality training for the mining and minerals exploration industry in Canada. The CMCP has three components: national occupational standards, certification and accreditation of training. The strategy for the program is to build the systems for certification and training accreditation based on industry-defined standards. To date, under the guidance of industry development committees, MiHR has developed four National Occupational Standards: Underground Hard Rock Miner, Surface Miner, Minerals Processing Operator and Diamond Driller.

The National Occupational Standards and related essential skills profiles can also provide the basis for the development of new training programs. For example, the Assembly of First Nations and MiHR are developing “Mining Essentials: A Work Readiness Training Program for Aboriginal Peoples.” This pre-employment mining training program is a potential entry point to MiHR’s CMCP, with a curriculum based on industry standards.

It can take anywhere from two to five years to train a skilled worker for the mining industry. Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas when it comes to investment in workforce development. The establishment of recognized National Occupation Standards and a certification program will have a significant and long-lasting effect on our sector.

For more information, please email or visit

Barbara Kirby is MiHR’s senior director, workforce development. She is responsible for overseeing the Council’s skills, learning and mobility initiatives, including the Canadian Mining Credentials program.

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