Recognizing Mining Occupations Nationwide

Lynsey Kitching
A shortage of qualified Canadian Miner’s caused the Mining Industry’s Human Resource Council (MIHRC) to start investigating ways to improve Human Resources and training strategies for miners.
MIHRC published a report, within which they identify a looming shortage of skilled workers for the mining industry. From that study, a group of industry stake holders including, Vice Presidents of Human Resources for some of the bigger mining companies in Canada, labour groups and unions such as the CEP (Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union) through to education and training experts in the industry sat down and based on forecasted labour shortages, developed a series of employment strategies the council would then develop. One was to create a set of National Occupational Standards (NOS) for the mining industry that would describe the skills and competencies required to occupy certain positions within the industry. 
In 2006, there were three NOSs developed. Those standards describe skills and competencies required in three occupational groupings; surface miners, minerals processing operators and underground miners for the types of competencies that a fully proficient worker would need to do and demonstrate every day in the work place. 
Diamond drillers, both above and below ground were added to the list of certifiable occupations as of last year. 
These groups have had the opportunity to obtain nationally recognized certification of their skills since the launch of the Canadian Mining Certification Program (CMCP) last May. The CMCP uses those standards as the basis for recognizing the skills and competencies of the workers across Canada.
The CMCP is now operating at 16 different sites or companies across Canada; including oil sands operations for surface miners. There are a number of operations in BC who are certifying their workers, mostly to mineral processing operator’s standards but also some surface miners.
The CMCP is essentially a skills passport for miners, which shows all the competencies within which they have been certified. It allows new employers to look at it and what they require and do a quick gap analysis, so employers are not wasting training dollars.
With this passport, employers can quickly target what they need to bring employees up to speed. Whereas before, a miner would transition into a new job and go through the standardized training program or, start at the bottom. This allows workers to go in with a record of the kinds of things they can do.
To date across Canada, there have been 380 workers across Canada who have been certified. There are about 300 certified underground miners, 56 minerals processing operators, 18 diamond drillers and six surface miners, with a number undergoing assessment.
Barbara Kirby, Senior Director, Workforce Development for the MIHRC has been very involved in the structuring and implementation of the CMCP. 
She says, “It gets a little complex within the underground standard and there is also the initial occupational standard focused on hard rock, but we have developed modules which deals specifically with soft rock. That would be potash, salt mine, coal, there a few other minerals. There are specific competencies that differ between hard and soft rock underground mining.”
The CMCP is an industry based system and participation from companies is voluntary. Kirby says, “They are doing so because they’ve chosen to participate in the program. They see it as a valuable tool for drafting new workers to their company. It is being used very much as an attraction for new workers. If you come to work for us, we will recognize your skills and seek national certification under the Canadian Mining Certification Program for you.”
Kirby says some companies also buy into the sustainability of the industry and building a highly trained workforce. She says, “We did our focus group. The key message that kept coming up is mining excellence in Canada. This revolves around retaining, attracting and developing a highly trained workforce.”
The assessment process is competency based including demonstration of skills required in an operating mine. All assessments are conducted by a trained registered workplace assessor, who is an employee of the company that is implementing the certification program, but trained by the MIHRC to implement the program on their site.
The council’s hope is that this standardized certification will eventually be in practice in all mines nationwide.
The CMCP does not happen at any of the mines surrounding Tumbler Ridge; however that may change when Teck begins operations at the Quintette mine site. 
Kirby says, “I am quite familiar with a number of the people in the training department at the Quintette operation. One of them participated on the original committee to develop the mineral processing operator’s standards. He didn’t participate in the underground standard. Teck is very aware of the certification program and are interested in seeing it happen at Quintette. This is early discussion, and there is no formal commitment. We have very senior support at Teck to implement the program across the country. There are other Teck sites that are doing the program.”
Kirby talks about the main challenges of the program saying, “Our biggest challenge is just getting the word out and having people understand the value in contributing to the industry as a whole. We chose these occupations because they don’t have any other form of national recognition of the skill set,” she continues, “Being able to communicate adds a great value to enriching human resources in our industry and is really important.”