Seconds count when scheduling fleets of trucks to haul waste rock and coal from a mine site.
That's why engineer Cory Takenaka, superintendent of processing at a southeastern British Columbia coal mine of Teck Resources Ltd., chose truck productivity as his assignment to complete a company-funded, mining-focused Executive Master of Business Administration at Simon Fraser University's Beedie School of Business in 2015.
His analysis of the amount of time trucks were not moving materials at Line Creek, followed by the introduction of best operating practices, led to a 15-per-cent rise in fleet efficiency over 2014-15. "We measure efficiency in seconds, given the size of the fleets," he says, estimating savings of "millions of dollars" through reduced idling time.
The customized mining EMBA for high-potential employees at Teck, developed by Beedie for the company in 2010, is one example of mining industry efforts to attract a new generation of well-rounded leaders with technical expertise and political savvy to manage unprecedented disruption.
"Mining has become a very difficult business and will continue [to be]," observes Andrew Swart, global mining consulting leader for Deloitte, which recently issued a report identifying "re-envisioning talent management" as one of 10 top sector trends worldwide. With "more attractive industries" competing for top employees, the report urges mining companies "to redefine roles, change corporate cultures, attract and train in new ways, reimagine traditional career paths, and rebrand to raise their appeal among millennial talent."
Given the pressure to embrace digital-driven automation, environmental stewardship and community engagement, says Mr. Swart, "you have to do things differently and you need people who think differently."
"If mining companies want to survive and they want to become sustainable they have to drive internal renewal. That doesn't mean getting rid of people; it means reskilling people [and] equipping people with new skills and attracting new talent."
In a $56-billion sector defined by boom and bust, the challenge is not lost on industry leaders.
"There has been a significant generation gap that has developed over the last couple of decades," says David Garofalo, president and chief executive of Goldcorp Inc., citing waves of layoffs in lean times. As a result, he says, "we have older employees who have prolonged their career and a younger generation that is just getting into the mining sector but the most productive group in the middle age, where you have the best balance of age and experience, is largely absent."
His company, for example, offers in-house training that includes a three-year "graduate development program" for young employees to develop technical, communication and leadership skills. "It is giving us a steady pipeline of emerging talent to populate our projects, mine sites and some of our key management positions, as well," he says.
Elsewhere, companies tap academic programs tailored for the sector. In 2012, York University's Schulich School of Business introduced a mining specialty in its two-year Master of Business Administration, featuring finance, environmental sustainability and other industry topics, discussions with industry leaders and mine site visits.
"The mining industry has been spectacularly successful in basically turning off a whole generation of people from mining as it goes through this inevitable cyclical nature of its business," says Richard Ross, a former chairman and chief executive officer and founding director of the Schulich specialty.
Over the past six years, Schulich has graduated 81 students who have landed industry positions in finance, business development, sustainability and consulting. Sophisticated leaders can have bottom-line impact, he says. "You can't make decisions in isolation anymore; it doesn't work," he says.
"It is an extremely important skill to have a much broader knowledge or understanding of the different aspects of the business."
Mining consultant Qasim Saddique, a 2013 graduate of the Schulich program, advises clients on various projects, including Northern Ontario's mineral-rich Ring of Fire. "I would not bring the value I bring to my clients without this education base," says Mr. Saddique, citing the blend of technical, political and sustainability topics.
Last year, responding to demand from geology alumni, Queen's University offered a new Master of Earth and Energy Resources Leadership, a 20-month, part-time professional degree for those in mining, oil and gas. An initial cohort of eight students is expected to grow to 30-40 students by 2020.
"They [the alumni] saw a need to develop leaders and decision-makers earlier in their career," says Heather Jamieson, a professor of geological sciences and geological engineering and an instructor in the program, citing demand for "leaders who are very aware of the increased interest of stakeholder communities to be involved and to address upfront concerns about the environment."
The range of external challenges for the industry – economic, political and social – "requires a bigger tool box" for future leaders, says Dave Thomas, partner and managing director of Resource Capital Funds, a venture capital and private equity firm financing projects in more than 50 countries.
Mr. Thomas, who serves on the human resources committee of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, says mining "requires individuals who have a higher degree of sophistication when it comes to engagement and issues of sustainability." The industry, he adds, needs "young people who want a career that makes them feel good about themselves." While praising the "vast majority of mining companies" as good corporate citizens, he is blunt about the sector's "branding issue" tied to past practices.
A demand for well-rounded leaders was the genesis for Beedie's customized EMBA, which grew out of a relationship with Teck dating back 20 years. After a round of corporate downsizing, the company recognized "big gaps emerging," recalls Mark Selman, director of Beedie's community and corporate programs.
Of particular concern to Teck was that engineers lacked business and other training to succeed in senior positions.
Today, more than 300 Teck employees have completed a graduate diploma in business education (fully paid by the company, including time off for studies) that is a prerequisite for the mining EMBA. Along with technical knowledge, students receive training in Indigenous relations, environmental sustainability and industry best practices
So far, two cohorts (each about 25 employees) have graduated from the EMBA, says Teck's Mr. Billings, with plans for a third now pending.
Of the first cohort, 82 per cent remain at Teck, says Mr. Billings, "and many of them have been promoted to executive positions."
For Mr. Takenaka, for whom the next step at the company would be to become a general manager, the EMBA gave him a sense of what is expected of industry leaders."With an engineering background, you have a very technical focus," he says. "The [EMBA] program gives you that perspective of considering the community that you work in, the environmental impact and how you might approach involving all of those as part of the overall project."
For example, his truck productivity assignment not only yielded cost savings from reduced idling time but generated environmental benefits from reduced diesel fuel consumption and emissions.
"We were making it a safe working environment while we were pushing through that extra second [of efficiency]," he says.