B.C. needs thousands of mining industry workers in the next decade or it will face production problems and a lack of exploration.
A report released Wednesday by B.C. Mining Human Resources Task Force predicts the province will need at least 16,000 new workers over the next decade. Those are primarily to replace retiring workers in both mining and mineral exploration.
David Bazowski, chair of the task force, said shortages in professional and skilled labour for B.C.’s mining industry are already here.
A coal-mining company operating in the Kootenays was forced to hire heavy-duty mechanics from a bauxite mine in Jamaica when it could not otherwise find employees, despite advertising nationally.
“They (Jamaican tradesmen) came to work in coal mines in Elk Valley and Alberta,” said Bazowski.
“We’re struggling to meet the needs already and it’s only going to get worse in the next five to 10 years.”
Bazowski said governments, post-secondary institutions and industry will all play a part in addressing skill shortages. But it will also fall to workers to adapt to the needs by seeking training.
On the professional side, there are shortages in engineers, metallurgists and geologists. The biggest need in trades is for heavy-duty mechanics, millwrights and electricians.
“You need to prepare yourself for those $100,000 jobs,” Bazowski said, adding both young people and those in the labour force already need to adjust to the demands and rewards.
Failure to fill positions made vacant by retiring employees will result in reduced production and exploration for minerals, in turn reducing B.C.’s economic capacity.
Lindsay Langill, dean of Thompson Rivers University’s trades and technology school, agreed “the word has to get out” to encourage training for the industry.
Langill is at a mining convention in Las Vegas this week attended by 50,000 people. He said it’s evident from talking to people on the convention floor that shortages are occurring in nearly every country where mining occurs.
TRU has responded recently by offering heavy equipment operator programs targeted at mining and forestry.
Langill said he’s starting to see a move toward the industry, seen through student program registrations.
“I’m finding there’s more (students) in heavy duty mechanics. People are starting to move over from the automotive side.”
Bazowksi said the next step is to determine where there is demand regionally for training in the province and where it is stable. That would allow targeted funding to specific schools where waiting lists for enrolment exist.
“BCIT has expanded. Douglas College is trying to establish a strong program around environmental and geology to fill a niche that’s there.”