Commentary: HR challenges in Canadian mineral exploration

The federal government-funded Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) and the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) have released a report that analyzes the labour market for mineral exploration in Canada and the human resources challenges facing the sector.

Titled Unearthing possibilities: human resources challenges and opportunities in the Canadian mineral exploration sector and available at and, the report makes the following observations:

Aging workforce: Despite the younger age profile of the mineral exploration sector, some occupations will still face problems due to having a bulge of younger workers and older workers and few in the middle.

As older workers retire in the affected occupations, finding qualified people for senior-level positions will become increasingly difficult.

Unaware: The study revealed a lack of awareness of career opportunities in exploration, as many participants reported not being exposed to geology, or geosciences, until secondary school when many students have already made career plans.

Participants agreed that middle-school students are an ideal age group for exposure to mineral exploration, as they are open-minded and beginning to consider career options.

Underrepresented groups: While under-represented in both sectors (women currently make up 20% of the exploration sector and 14% in mining), the study revealed a trend of mid-career attrition by women in exploration.

Martha Roberts, MiHR’s director of research.Findings, suggests this trend may be linked to field work and highlights that partnerships with geosciences groups are needed to conduct further research on women in geosciences positions to better understand the specific challenges and issues they may face.

The study revealed that the exploration sector underperforms both the mining sector and the rest of the labour market in employment of Aboriginal peoples. The mining industry (e.g. including some aspects of exploration) is the number-one employer of Aboriginal people in Canada (with 6.8% Aboriginal representation, compared to 3.2% in the labour force); however, only 2.1% of the full exploration workforce is Aboriginal.

Exploration activities are often located close to Aboriginal communities, and the sector also employs a large portion of highly educated professionals, (over 75% of the workforce) making it uniquely positioned to grow the Aboriginal talent pool and support opportunities for higher education of Aboriginal peoples.

Education and training: The exploration sector’s educational requirements are very high and increasing, which reduces the mobility of workers into this sector from other occupations and industries.

Therefore, future labour shortages will need to be alleviated by a combination of attracting more immigrants with the necessary skills, and increasing enrolment in post-secondary programs geared towards the sector’s needs.

Lack of field experience was also identified as a significant roadblock to employment. In light of this, working to build and strengthen direct links between industry and education and identifying solutions to logistical barriers will be instrumental in creating opportunities for careers seekers to gain this valuable experience through summer jobs, field work as part of a course lab, or co-op programs.

The future: In the mineral exploration sector, there are over 3,500 companies and 95% of employers are micro- and small-sized establishments, whereas the mining sector is mainly comprised of fewer large, multinational employers.

Therefore, the approach to researching, identifying and providing support for HR challenges and opportunities differs greatly between the sectors, despite several similarities.


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