What are the main themes the CIM sees impacting Canada’s mining industry in 2021 and 2022?
There are a number of high profile issues such as decarbonization, water consumption, diversity and inclusion, and digitization that are impacting the industry. In addition to these, and from a very operational perspective, a big issue currently facing the industry is the scarcity of talent. During the last super-cycle from 2008 to 2013, the demand for talent was filled by a number of retired professionals coming back to help plug the gap. However, many of these individuals are now between 75 and 85 years old and sufficient numbers will not come out of retirement this time around. Furthermore, we have seen a continuous decrease in university enrolments and graduates in mineral extraction and mineral resource programs.
Another industry challenge, which relates to the scarcity of talent, is the image the mining industry has both in Canada and globally. There is a huge amount of cognitive dissonance between society in general and what the mining industry does. Unfortunately, the many efforts by various industry associations trying to improve the general public’s view of mining have not been able to move the dial, and the sector is still perceived in a negative light. It’s seen as an old, dirty low-tech industry. In reality, the mining industry builds, deploys and operates some of the most advanced and sophisticated technologies and machines on the planet, but this message is not reaching society and we need to come up with a different plan of attack to engage a wider audience.
How do you think the mining industry can attract a more diverse workforce to help fill the talent gap?
The lack of diversity again relates to the negative perception of the industry. We have to relay a positive message to society from an early stage, even at the school level. Industry organizations and governments need to collaboratively do something grander and bigger to explain the importance and opportunities modern mining presents. I believe that we should ramp up mining education opportunities in communities which already have exposure to the industry, which can play an important part in attracting talent in the areas which need it most.
How have you seen the issue of ESG gained evolve in all sub-segments of the industry?
Many people in the industry grew up and lived in mining communities and wanted these communities to be clean and safe, so the issue of ESG is not new. Today, Canadian mineral processors understand that if they are going to disrupt the environment, they need to ensure that they extract every ounce of possible value out of the rock. The industry has thus always been incentivized to invest in advancing recovery technologies to reduce environmental impacts. The more metal that can be extracted out of what has already been mined, the less the environmental impact. There has also always been the goal to reduce costs, which means reducing energy consumption, which means reducing your carbon footprint.
Although ESG has gained more significance in recent years, especially from an investment perspective, gradual technological advancements have allowed the industry to reduce pollutants by 98% since the 1970s. Today, carbon footprint is high on the agenda for mining companies. Technological advancements in the ability to simulate various mining methods and processing options from a carbon footprint and water consumption perspective are allowing the industry to properly account for the cost of water and carbon in project economics. This allows for better decisions to be taken that are better for the environment and for the bottom line.
Why do you think is important for industry conferences and events to go back to an in-person format?
A key part of our mission at CIM is curating knowledge and bringing people together to collectively address the challenges the industry is facing. The pandemic has made this challenging. Virtual events are still a possibility and the advancements made in online communications have been important and will certainly be part of the mix going forward. However, in my experience, the real foundation of problem solving initiatives happens in the corridors outside of presentation rooms and through informal meetings between individuals at conferences. Many impactful collaboration efforts have been launched as a result of organic collisions at a conference.