Leaders In the Mining Industry Have Never Faced a Labour Shortage Quite Like This
First, the good news.
The mining industry is, objectively, in the midst of a historic boom and commodity prices are surging, particularly minerals needed to produce batteries and components for electric vehicles.
The International Energy Agency has determined that an EV requires six times more minerals than a conventional fossil-fuel powered vehicle. And the demand for these minerals – lithium, manganese, copper, cobalt, nickel, graphite among others – will be so fierce, the only question facing the mining industry is whether it will be able to keep up with demand and global auto makers attempt to completely transform their industry into a zero net producer of greenhouse gasses.
And now, the challenge.
The mining industry will need to attract skilled talent, and a new generation of leaders, to what will be one of the most dynamic industrial sectors of the future.
The concerns start with declining enrolment in the post-secondary programs that support the mining industry – mining engineering, materials processing, metallurgy and geology.
Right now, they are among the least popular among all engineering programs. While interest in computer and biosystems undergraduate programs has skyrocketed, enrolment at U.S.-based mining-related engineering programs declined by nearly 50 per cent between 2015 and 2020, and the number of American colleges with mining engineering degrees has dropped from 25 to just 14. The same trend is being seen as well in other major mining countries, including Canada and Australia.
The concern is so acute that this year, U.S. Congress introduced the Mining Schools Act of 2022 to provide $10 million a year for eight years to “train the next generation of mining engineers and other mining professionals.”
Could a leadership reboot be the key to addressing the talent crunch?
The mining industry has always relied heavily on its highly skilled and educated workers to keep the talent pipeline filled. However, with fewer post-secondary students looking to a career in mining, it makes sense that there would be fewer candidates on a leadership track. That is a concern because the next generation of leaders will be critically important to changing the perceptions about the mining industry that may be dampening interest in it as a career.
In so many ways, it would be hard to find an industry where leaders are more important than they are in mining.
In addition to all the typical leadership responsibilities – sparking innovation, boosting engagement and productivity, cultivating retention and driving bottom-line results – mining industry leaders also play a key role in the health and safety of workers in one of the most dangerous workplaces on the planet.
But at a time when interest in mining as a career is down, new demands will be placed on leaders. They will need to be fluent in social and environmental concerns. They must be able to demonstrate the leadership skills associated with emotional intelligence – particularly empathy, compassion and self-awareness – so many younger workers crave. In short, leaders will need development to balance both the traditional leadership roles in mining, but also meet the expectations of younger generations of workers.
However, leadership development can do much more than just prepare leaders for the dawning of a new age of work. Investments in developing and supporting leaders will help you attract skilled talent with a desire to fill leadership roles. In other words, mining companies with established reputations for leadership development will become a draw for top mining talent.
The leadership development checklist
Like many industries where technical experts are often promoted into leadership roles, this will prove to be a challenge both for individual and organization. Fortunately, with a planful approach that assesses current leadership capacity and then builds out leadership culture for the future, mining can develop leaders that are as advanced as the technology that drives the industry.
Welcome to the leadership capacity checklist.
Acknowledge there is a need. It is impossible to reimagine something as complex as leadership development unless current leaders acknowledge that there is room to improve. This can be a particularly thorny issue for smaller firms that have their own unique approach to managing human resources. However, even the smallest firms can benefit from a leadership culture that helps attract and retain talent.
Assess the state of your current leadership team. Bringing in an independent, fresh set of eyes to assess the state of current leadership can be a revealing process. It helps identify the good, bad, and ugly of existing culture, while also identifying strong performers and those that are not wired for a career in leadership. Psychometric assessments, interviews and interactive work with the leadership group will help you figure out whether the people you have in leadership positions now are the people you will need in the future.
Use the tools best suited to the job at hand. The good news for mining companies hoping to build more impactful leaders is that there are wide variety of tools and strategies available. Companies may choose to make coaching available to leaders, either through a traditional one-on-one format or in a team coaching approach. Things like team coaching or virtual coaching, can help smaller or mid-sized companies to provide this support to their leaders at an overall cost that will fit most budgets.
Measure. If you’re going to invest in your leaders, it’s important to measure the outcomes to ensure you’re getting good value for your money. The process of measuring in leadership development starts with establishing benchmarks for improved behaviour and skills. Assessing leaders both before and after training helps ensure they absorbed the learning and are now applying it in their day-to-day work.
Just about every industry and sector is facing a labour shortage right now. But not every company within these industries and sectors are being proactive about addressing the shortage. Although it’s important for the mining sector to address its need to recruit younger, skilled talent, once you have them in the door you have to do everything you can to make sure they stay.
Simply put, there are few things you can do to improve retention more than providing a contemporary and positive leadership culture. All it takes is a commitment to developing more effective leaders.
About the Authors
Eric Beaudan is Partner and Global Head of the Leadership Practice at Odgers Berndtson Canada. Using the proprietary LeaderFit assessment method he designed, Eric works with organizations to assess and develop the leadership potential of their executives and high-potential talent.
Robert (Rob) Quinn is Partner and Head of the Industrial Practice in Canada, as well as Head of the Global Mining Practice. He specializes in recruiting senior executives and board directors in the Mining, Energy & Utilities, Manufacturing, and Infrastructure sectors.
Mary McKenzie is an Engagement Manager in Odgers Berndtson’s Mining & Metals Practice in Canada. She specializes in technical assignments for global operations and corporate levels within junior, mid-tier and major mining companies.
About Odgers Berndtson
Odgers Berndtson is a global integrated leadership advisory firm providing expertise in executive and board search; interim executive search; leadership assessment, coaching and development; board and team performance; and business strategy consulting. Nationally, we support our clients from six offices across the country. Globally, more than 1,100 Odgers Berndtson colleagues support our clients from 65 offices in 33 countries.