Miners tweak training, bonuses amid labor shortage

Tue Mar 6, 2012 12:06pm EST
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By Allison Martell

TORONTO (Reuters) - Anita Bertisen's family and friends thought she was crazy when she enrolled in a mining engineering program in 1998, when the notoriously volatile industry was struggling worldwide.

As it turned out, Bertisen was just ahead of her time. A senior engineer at California-based consulting firm Tetra Tech Inc (TTEK.O: Quote), she now deflects weekly pitches from headhunters.

It's part of a broader trend, as a tight labor supply holds back growth across the mining sector, with shortages of skilled labor from senior engineers to welders.

Firms are looking for creative ways to fill the gap, from more intensive and accelerated training to new bonus structures, and the subject is a hot topic at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference in Toronto.

The mood at the conference is cautiously optimistic, and many businesses are expanding - Bertisen's office in Golden, Colorado, more than doubled its work force in the last 18 months. But firms need more workers, and a handle on labor costs, to keep growing.

In the next decade Canada's mining sector will need more than 100,000 mostly skilled new hires to sustain even modest growth, the Mining Industry Human Resources Council, a non-profit funded by the federal government and the mining industry, said in September.

It estimated that 201,000 people worked in the sector in 2011, many of whom are close to retirement age. Similar trends are seen around the world.

Tetra Tech's approach is to hire 25-year-olds - or "kids," as some veterans call them - and train them.   Continued...