The Association of Mineral Exploration leads through change

2021: The year of the virtual gathering

by Timothy Fowler
Kendra Johnston is the president and CEO of the Association for Mineral Exploration.

Kendra Johnston is the president and CEO of the Association for Mineral Exploration. — Photo courtesy AME

While safety is always the highest priority for mining, the recent Canadian Mining and Energy Conference was focused on change. And change is good. Three common themes throughout the conference were (1) environment, social and governance (E.S.G.), (2) diversity and (3) cleaning up mining’s reputation by creating a new image of mining.

The Association for Mineral Exploration’s (AME) recent five-day global virtual gathering entitled “Leading Through Change” brought together attendees from 20 countries and included 32,000 booth visits and 15,000 unique views of conference presentations. The global pandemic encouraged organizers to deliver the 38th Mineral Exploration Roundup virtually––the first one of its kind in history––in a completely safe environment.

Diversity and inclusion

Fearless leaders face difficulty and tackle it, as Kendra Johnston, president and CEO of AME, said in her keynote address, A Conversation on Diversity and Inclusion in Mineral Exploration.

“I will start from a place of vulnerability for myself,” she said. “It felt a little bit odd to be out there searching for a Black geologist to put on this panel. A Black geologist with experience working in North America was extremely difficult to find.”

Johnston’s approach was provocative and honest as a way to broach diversity and get the issue on the table for discussion and action.

Leading through change

“Our industry is in a period of change,” Johnston said. “We’re still fighting this old image of what operations in mining is, automatically conjuring a picture––when you’re not familiar with mining––of dirty coal mines in the past. At least that’s what I conjure when I don’t think about where we are today––that’s what’s going on. We are really trying to change that perception. The industry has come such a long way. We are trying to communicate that we continue to improve best practices.”

E.S.G. (environment, social and governance) was a theme throughout the conference. Topics ranged from baseline environmental studies of wildlife and water to social issues of working with local communities, developing partnerships and working with employees and government to governance and developing board diversity. Getting the word out of positive progress and solid achievements is part of what AME is working on.

Johnston took some time to chat with Canadian Mining and Energy post-conference. She said, “I’m a treasure hunter and gold explorer by background. I love wildness, wildlife and remoteness. You can’t help collecting stories."

“These conferences are like a giant family reunion because when you spend time in camp, you get to know the people so well that they can become like brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. You come to round-up, and you run into all these people that you have lived with in the camp and have become like family very quickly. It’s just such a neat meeting and unique industry in that way.”

Always-on events and networking

AME hosted innovative virtual events throughout the week, January 18 to 22, 2021, to connect with old friends and network with new ones. Participants could join the virtual beer tasting with Stanley Park Brewing if participants had the foresight to purchase the Winter Concession Stand Mix pack from their local beer store in advance of the session. Or folks could join the virtual poker table with a $25 (in exchange for chips) donation in support of the Ronald McDonald House B.C. and Yukon.

Having a virtual conference means making adjustments to formats and platforms to facilitate the same kinds of connections when attendees share physical space during a conference. Every day participants could visit various virtual hangouts from Exhibitor Booths, Poster Sessions and the Prospector’s Tent to Project Generators Hub and Regional Group Lounges. We have all made adjustments during the pandemic to keep connected and make new connections. These are great examples of how AME has done this successfully in our new environment.

Looking to the future

As the market for electric vehicles increases and manufacturers move to fill this demand, the pressure on specific minerals intensifies. It is worth noting that some mining operations have already moved their trucks and mining equipment to EVs. This conversion is another opportunity for mining to improve its environmental footprint and at the same time tackle the exploration of new sources of minerals required to meet this need in the years ahead. Nickel and aluminum are at the top of the list for greater demand, and copper, lithium, cobalt and others will experience pressure too.

People crunch means opportunity

Johnston also talked about the challenges of the aging and changing mining workforce.

“We also have a substantial turnover in our employees, and our people are simply an aging population in exploration and mining, and we have to bring this new generation along,” she said. “The new generation is much more technologically savvy and has a much different social perspective growing up with Facebook and Twitter and social media. They have a different understanding of what standard camp amenities look like and, therefore, a different need for different comforts in camp. We have new technologies in camp as well—that’s also changing.

“This new generation is also so much more focused on mining sustainability, wildlife conservation and best practices and making sure we do those. I think that is really helping us push forward on E.S.G. factors. There is change all around us, and we need to be at the forefront of that, so AME has really been pushing to not just lead for today but to lead for where we think we are going to be in five years or 10 years. We are setting that course, and these trends, where we want to go, and we are bringing our people along with us.”

Focus going forward

Looking to the future, AME has several focuses. The theme of diversity inclusion will continue to be a focus for AME in 2021 and into the future. Developing critical mineral opportunities with the review of geological data will be an ongoing focus as markets emerge and demand shifts and increases for various minerals. There is an opportunity to increase early-stage First Nations community engagement, bringing traditional knowledge to the exploration process. These issues, in addition to continuing to push on the E.S.G. agenda, are what AME will be focused on in the coming months.

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