Predicting the future: Mining and energy jobs in five years

Mining and energy industry experts weighed in on what jobs will be in high demand in five years

Heather Kaminsky is working in the lab at NAIT.

Heather Kaminsky (left), a lead researcher at the Centre for Oil Sands Sustainability at NAIT, predicts an increased demand for applied researchers. — Photo courtesy NAIT Centre for Oil Sands Sustainability

When most of us think of the future of mining and energy, we know that jobs will take new forms as the landscape shifts drastically towards a sustainable future and begins to serve younger and emerging markets.

We asked a handful of mining and energy industry workers what their predictions are for jobs in high demand in five years.

Bruce Madu is standing on top of a mountain.

Bruce Madu, vice-president of minerals and mining at Geoscience BC, sees a growing need for technical communicators and Indigenous resource managers. — Photo courtesy Bruce Madu

Technical communicators

Bruce Madu, vice-president of minerals and mining at Geoscience BC, predicts a couple of positions to become popular specifically in his area of expertise. As an engineer in the public sector, he sees an increased demand for technical communicators and Indigenous relations managers as the mining industry matures to include more public engagement. Madu’s current role includes overseeing public work and building connections of this type. “It is a learned skill,” he said. A balance between scientific knowledge and personable communications is necessary to succeed.

Technical communicators would work to bring the mining community closer to the public. “There is a growing need for team members in the exploration and mine community who are capable of confidently understanding the technical aspects of the sector, while garnering public trust through digestible, effective communication,” he said. Technical aspects would include geology, water management, acid mine drainage prediction and other topics.

He believes the start of this position is in the sciences. However, to be effective, individuals would require a lot of training and experience to distil the detailed, factual aspects of a project into accurate, but understandable, terms.

Indigenous resource managers

As the largest employer of Indigenous people in Canada and with increasing involvement of First Nations governments in resource development, the exploration and mining sector will see growth in opportunities for Indigenous resource managers.

Madu believes that a few areas will see this need for Indigenous resource managers. “These positions may reside within self-governing structures as resource management departments are developed, within sector operations where recruitment and job training opportunities will be created or within the consulting and support sector where new successful developments will collaborate traditional knowledge with Western science.”

Bill Robertson is out in the field at a job site.

Bill Robertson, president and co-founder of R&R Utility Limited, predicts a greater need for inspectors and quality-control professionals. — Photo courtesy R&R Utility Limited

Quality-control professionals

Bill Robertson, president and co-founder of R&R Utility Limited, has spent his career working in transmission line engineering. His company actively hires new graduates to pass its knowledge onto the next generation of engineers. His team sees a need for individuals in supporting roles in five years to balance the influx of trained engineers.

“In talking to our members in the field, they believe there will be an increasing need for inspectors and quality-control professionals who can ensure good workmanship at the end of a project,” Robertson said. “A lot of old-fashioned, hands-on experience is being lost or overlooked as the digital age advances.”

Robertson stresses that regardless of digital advances, a qualified physical presence will still hold a place in the industry “to ensure the work is done according to design requirements.”

Contract administrators

Robertson also believes that contract administrators will be in high demand. His team has watched many of British Columbia’s energy projects end in unexpected disputes over the past few years.

“This could be the result of poor design, incomplete or cumbersome construction specifications, unrealistic environmental limitations, unworkable or confusing contract terms, et cetera,” he said.

A specialized mediator would minimize the occurrence of disputes, therefore increasing the success of British Columbia’s energy projects. Clarity, communication and competence must be the focus for a job well done. “If a clear scope of work can be properly defined and is executed by competent people, it will be a good job,” Robertson said.

A close-up of a large diamond held by tweezers

Reid Mackie, vice-president of diamond marketing at Mountain Province Diamonds, believes that diamond marketers must understand the varying preferences of different generations. — Photo courtesy Mountain Province Diamonds

Marketing experts

Reid Mackie, vice-president of diamond marketing at Mountain Province Diamonds, predicts increased marketing roles similar to his own. He sees a need for innovative ideas specifically for marketing techniques to attract a younger audience.

“From my marketing side of mining, specifically with diamonds, five years down the road there will be a need for marketing and branding professionals,” he said. This is not the typical hard-hat and steel-toe boot-wearing mining worker, but this role is just as important for most mining companies.

Diamonds require different marketing tactics than other types of mining because of the way they are sold on the public retail market. Plus, the competition on the retail market is fierce. “It’s an industry that has been dominated by just a few players until recent years, so it doesn’t have the history of other luxury goods out there,” Mackie said, referring to the additional marketing challenges younger diamond companies face.

“One of the things the diamond industry has been talking about is maintaining the relevance of diamonds, especially in the bridal market,” he said. What’s relevant for millennials right now is very different from what was relevant to their parents and grandparents. The business side of mining will require innovative marketing techniques in order to compete with generational ideals and competing diamond producers.

A young worker is standing by a pipeline.

Malcolm Haines, dean of the School of Skilled Trades at NAIT, thinks the demand for the skilled trades will increase, such as steamfitter pipefitters. — Photo courtesy NAIT

Skilled trades and facility maintenance workers

Malcolm Haines, dean of the School of Skilled Trades at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), predicts a shift away from construction roles.

New construction will be completed within five years to make way for turnaround maintenance positions. “I think it will be mostly the boilermakers and steamfitter pipefitters,” Haines said.

He also predicts an increased demand for welders. “Welding is the trade that drops off first when the energy trade suffers, but it is also the one that has to come back the fastest,” he said. When construction is complete, these roles are required for the maintenance and upkeep of the facilities.

Fortunately, NAIT offers programs for these types of positions. Students are trained at top-of-the-line facilities following curricula suggestions from industry.

Alternative energy engineers

Stewart Cook, dean of the School Applied Science and Technology at NAIT, predicts a continued growth in alternative energy, therefore a demand for engineers with specialties in sustainability.

With a need to minimize the reliance on fossil fuels and increase the efficiency of renewables, the energy industry will need to train alternative energy engineers. “We have a two-year diploma program in alternative energy engineering technology,” Cook said. “We’ve recently increased the size of it. There is a greater push to find other ways to create energy—which is not a surprise.”

A view of wind turbines

Stewart Cook, dean of the School Applied Science and Technology at NAIT, predicts a continued growth in alternative energy. — Photo courtesy CanWEA

Health and safety workers

Across all the mining and energy industries, Cook has noticed a stronger interest in health and safety of workers and communities. “There is always a strong focus on safety, but it’s continuously growing,” he said. Unfortunately, and commonly, safety increases after accidents happen, “but the trend over the last few years focuses on accountability and worker safety.” Not only is the worker’s safety considered, but mining operations are paying more attention to the impact of their work on the surrounding communities and environment.

Accordingly, the arena of health and safety has started to encompass a variety of roles: exploration tactics, environmental preservation and reclamation methods, employee health and safety, and community morale, among others.

Heather Kaminsky is working in the lab.

Heather Kaminsky is a researcher on the influence of clays in oilsands tailings. — Photo courtesy NAIT

Applied researchers

Continuing with the theme of sustainability, Heather Kaminsky, lead researcher at the Centre for Oil Sands Sustainability at NAIT, predicts an increased demand for applied researchers with the ability to produce sustainable solutions to industry challenges.

“I think that people who can understand the variability in process, specifically tailings and waste, will be in demand,” Kaminsky said. “Even if oil prices or the industry tanks because solar energy takes over—or whatever the case may be—we still have a huge legacy of tailings that we need to reclaim.”

The ability to understand the problem and treat it in an economic manner is crucial for the industry and the well-being of Canada across all industries—not just the oilsands. “Understanding the geotechnical stability of tailings and how to create stable tailings are going to be really important,” she said.

Regardless of their current positions, most mining and energy industry experts expect more jobs to become available in five years—even if these jobs are very different than typical mining jobs.

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