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Shortage of managers predicted by industry.

Shortage of managers predicted by industry

The decline in interest in university-level science and engineering courses is expected to cause future problems in the mining sector, according to industry officials.

Officials from mining companies and mining associations say the lack of interest could force companies to scramble for skilled managers in the years to come.

The dilemma is that a majority of companies fill supervisory positions from within. With fewer workers joining the sector at entry-level or skilled positions, a domino effect is expected to reach the management ranks after the turn of the century.

"At the lower levels we don't have enough skilled tradesmen," said George Miller, president of the Mining Association of Canada (MAC). "Historically Canada has never trained enough workers, and apprenticeship programs have never been utilized as well as they could be."

Miller added that the industry has been a less-than-enthusiastic user of federal training initiatives.

With a smaller pool of skilled workers to draw from, mining company officials are predicting future problems in the management ranks.

"We don't have any problems now, but it's something we have to look at further down the line if we have fewer people coming into the industry now," said John Pappone, manager of employee relations for Falconbridge Ltd.'s Kidd Creek division.

"Over the years this practice (of promoting from within) has been pretty successful.

"At this operation we haven't had any difficulty in finding people, but it does take time," Pappone admitted.

He added that, because of a low staff turnover, usually the only time when managers are recruited from outside the company is when new operations are being brought on line.

"It (the employment level) has been static," Pappone noted. "We have not expanded for a while."

Officials with Inco Ltd. say the current employment situation indicates potential future problems at the company.

"We're all right for the next five to 10 years, but beyond that you've got to be concerned," said Michael Sopko, vice-president of human resources. "The main factor is the dropping enrolment in engineering and the technical sciences. The key is whether it is just a temporary or a chronic condition."

Officials of both Laurentian University in Sudbury and Queen's University in Kingston say enrolment in mining-related and engineering courses declined during the past decade.

At Laurentian Steve Junkin, assistant registrar in charge of admissions, records and scheduling, said the school saw a large decline in enrolment in technical sciences during the early 1980s, but he noted that the enrolment levels have stabilized in recent years.

Junkin attributed the decline to a reduction in the assistance offered to foreign students which forced them to attend schools in Manitoba and Quebec.

Despite a recent increase in admissions to the programs, Junkin said the facilities are still at less than capacity.

At Queen's University the decline has been more acute, according to one professor in the mining department.

Professor John Pattison, who is in charge of undergraduate assistance at the university, said enrolment has fallen approximately 50 per cent from levels recorded 10 years ago.

"Enrolment has declined for the past five to 10 years," Pattison said. "We used to graduate between 40 and 50 graduates from the program, and last year it was down to about 20."

According to Miller, declining enrolment in technical sciences also has serious implications for other industries in the country.

"I'm very concerned about the ability of the country to compete in the world marketplace," he said. "In terms of innovation, we have to worry about being able to keep up."

As was the case in Sudbury, the enrolment in the Queen's University program stabilized and has started to increase.

Pattison said the department has focused its energies on boosting the number of second-year engineering students entering mining-related disciplines. While it was too early in the school year to determine how successful the efforts were, he estimated the number of students would increase to 35 from 20.


According to Pattison, the department's efforts involved getting first-year engineering students acquainted with the mining industry.

"The key was that the industry was working with us to create more than 40 jobs for the students," he said.

The Queen's University program answers one problem from which Sopko said the industry suffers - the image of an underground miner working for a small wage.

"The industry has been stereotyped. A lot has changed over the years and I don't believe that we've told our story as well as it could have been told," he said. "As an industry, we haven't been as pro-active as we could have been."

A former British Petroleum Canada executive has recently completed a study to determine the causes of the decline in the number of skilled workers and potential solutions.

Pat McCulloch, a former senior vice-president with BP Canada, was expected to hand officials of MAC, the Canadian Institute of Metallurgy and Energy, Mines and Resources Canada a number of proposals aimed at alleviating the situation.

During a telephone interview, McCulloch said he discovered the shortage is occurring globally. Like Miller, McCulloch attributed part of the problem to a lack of interest in apprenticeship programs.

"The programs have just withered on the vine," he said.
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Title Annotation:Mining Report
Author:Krejlgaard, Chris
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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