Canadian mining companies join global war for talent

April 25 (Bloomberg) -- Bruno Rizzuto’s father, Cesare, was 19 when he got off a boat in Halifax from southern Italy in 1951. With no coat, and “5 cents in his pocket” he headed for the gold mines of Timmins, Ontario, where he worked underground for 41 years.

Six decades later Rizzuto, a Calgary-based recruiter, is looking for people like his father, with a proposal to bring 10 to 20 miners to Canada from South America as companies scour the world to find workers for the latest mining boom.

“There are just simply not the people there, and I think it’s going to be the Achilles heel of the industry,” said Rizzuto, 38, managing partner at Cadre Staffing Inc. “A lot of these projects will not be able to get off the ground because they will not have either the management capacity to do so or the operational workforce.”

Mining companies such as Barrick Gold Corp. are struggling to fill vacancies amid a skills shortage that stretches from the iron-ore pits of Western Australia to Chile’s copper mines and the gold deposits of Quebec. Producers of commodities including gold, copper and coal are building mines to feed demand from countries like China just as geologists, engineers and miners begin to retire en masse, pushing up wages and crimping productivity.

Lost Generation

Enrollment in mining graduate programs slumped in the 1980s and 1990s after commodity prices fell and hiring stalled. The sector also lost people to the technology boom from 1999 to 2001, said Aaron Regent, chief executive officer of Barrick, the world’s biggest gold-mining company by revenue.

“At that point we were basically in a depression as an industry; we were an irrelevant industry,” Regent said in an interview. “So we lost a generation of people.”

About 61,550 to 71,740 mining workers in Canada, or more than a third of the industry, may retire in the next 10 years, according to forecasts by the Mining Industry Human Resources Council.

The council estimates Canada’s mining industry will need about 141,540 new hires until 2021 if activity continues to accelerate. Even if growth slows and hiring recedes, the sector will have to find 112,020 new workers to replace retirees and other departures in the next 10 years, according to council estimates.

Newmont Mining Corp., based in Greenwood Village, Colorado, and the world’s second-largest gold miner by revenue, expects about 500 mine engineers will retire in the next five to 10 years, Chief Executive Officer Richard O’Brien said in a Bloomberg Television interview March 27. The company currently has about 650 mine engineering positions.

All Levels

“We could hire every mining graduate in America and we couldn’t replace them,” O’Brien said. “Whether it’s northern Nevada, Australia, Ghana, Indonesia, we are looking for people at all levels of employment.”

Wages have risen with demand. In Canada, average weekly wages for workers in the mining, quarrying, oil and gas industries, the country’s highest paid industry, rose 8.2% to C$1,842.59 ($1,846.28) in January from a year ago, according to Statistics Canada. That compares with a national average of C$888.89, which was 2% higher than a year earlier.

Compensation packages for skilled mining professionals in Canada have doubled in five years, said Chris Stafford, president of Toronto-based C.J. Stafford & Associates, which specializes in recruitment for the mining, engineering and construction industries.

Mining companies are building large in-house recruiting departments, and using new sweeteners to find and keep skilled employees, he said.

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