Why is the mining industry struggling to attract young people to replace the droves of older workers who are retiring?
Raziel Zisman, a Partner at Whittle Consulting who leads its Sustainable Governance Initiative, believes it’s because the industry has made little effort to speak to what really matters for young people: purpose and values.
To that end, Zisman has put together the LIAMforum, an online conference on sustainable resource development starring a who’s who of mining, technology, think tanks, academia and government. The inaugural conference, scheduled for Oct. 3-7, will be free for all to attend, and aims to connect opportunities in mining with the values that drive youth.
The conference, which will be hosted by Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., will bring together over 90 diverse speakers ranging from former Anglo American (LSE: AAL) CEO Mark Cutifani to Charissa Rujanavech, the creator behind Apple’s Liam and Daisy automated disassembly systems for iPhone recycling. (Other speakers include Clive Johnson, Rob McEwen, Michelle Ash, and federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.)
The event will aim to help young people identify career paths in mining and allow them to connect with people in multiple areas inside and outside of the industry, fostering networking and mentoring opportunities – and importantly, zero in on the sustainability questions facing mining.
Zisman was driven to action by the loss of his son Liam in January. Liam had been studying environmental geoscience at Brock when he passed away at age 19. A childhood cancer survivor, Zisman and others who knew Liam describe him as bright, honest, and funny.
He spent time interning at The Northern Miner for several summers when he was in high school, helping out with everything from social media and industry research to writing and audio editing. The “technically savvy” young man was “quick to learn new tools,” said marketing specialist Mladen Kovacevic, who was one of his supervisors.
“He remains in my memory a really bright young man with a refreshingly quirky sense of humour,” who “brought energy and laughs to an otherwise typical office,” Kovacevic wrote in Liam’s online memorial book.
Former Northern Miner editor-in-chief John Cumming recalls he took the unusual step of giving Liam a full workload, despite his young age, because he was so bright. “At first he reeled under the load, but he pulled himself together and soon had a major front page story for his efforts,” Cumming said. “He had a charming bluntness about him, and as he shook my hand to say goodbye at the end of the internship, he said, ‘Well, I’ve learned that I definitely don’t want to be a journalist!'”
Most of all, like many members of the Gen Z cohort, Liam was values-driven, says Zisman, and aspired to help build a better, more just and environmentally responsible world.
It was this disconnect between his son’s values and the mining industry — in which Zisman has worked for over 20 years — that sparked the idea for the conference. Zisman recalls how bored Liam was with industry events such as PDAC, and how the education system is also failing to bridge the gap with industry.
“Universities are not connecting kids with the world and saying, guys, all these opportunities are open to you,” Zisman says. “Nobody’s addressing kids per se. Nobody’s asking them, what are your values?”
Meanwhile, the opportunities in mining are boundless: disciplines as far afield as archaeology and zoology interact with mining, says Zisman, who is also a lawyer and has a background in economics.
One of the LIAMforum speakers, Gary A. Bolles, Chair for the Future of Work for Singularity University, will speak to the values disconnect. In a recent presentation, Bolles noted that society tells kids to forget about their values when they enter the job market, but there is a huge opportunity to connect the value seeking with the jobs.
“There’s absolutely every reason to connect kids with a passion for improving the world, with a strong set of values for doing it correctly – we want those people in the industry because 20 years from now they’ll be our new Mark Cutifanis, our new leaders,” Zisman said.
The mining industry is often accused of being slow to innovate – another turnoff for youth – but many of the participating speakers are young people who are doing “extraordinary” things.
“It gives you lots of hope,” Zisman said.
In addition to hosting the LIAMforum, Brock University, which doesn’t have any mining specific programs, will be developing a master’s degree program in sustainable resource development.
Zisman says Brock has been fantastic to work with from the beginning.
Participating faculty include the Dean of the Faculty of Math and Science, Ejaz Ahmed, who in an emailed statement said he was part of the discussions the university had with Zisman about the impact that a conference like LIAMforum could have on youth.
“The conference offers students, researchers, and practitioners at Brock and other institutions, exposure to many areas related to sustainable resource development through the eyes and the professional careers of 90+ speakers and panelists from a wide range of corporate and academic entities,” Ahmed said. “We hope to inspire and educate the next generation of SRD leaders.”
Ahmed noted that Brock has strong earth sciences programs and faculty with expertise in a wide range of sustainable resource development issues. The conference also coincides with the UNESCO International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development 2022, with Brock being the only Canadian University in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
In an emailed statement, Brock’s interim president and vice-chancellor Lynn Wells said: “Brock has long been a leader in providing students with opportunities to build on their in-class education and identify pathways to rewarding, successful careers. The LIAMforum and its diverse lineup of thought leaders will give the next generation of sustainable resource development professionals the tools they need to enter the workforce ready for any challenge. We’re very proud to be supporting Raziel and the LIAMforum in this very worthy endeavour.”
The conference will cover four main themes: conceptualizing sustainable development; breaking silos and working together towards a common good; empowering the next generation; and sustainable resource development education.
Check out the speakers and register at https://www.liamforum.com.