Cobalt: A Blast from the Past for Canadian Mining

The rise of the electric car seems to be creating a run on a rare mineral with ties to one of Ontario’s original mining towns. While the last time you heard about cobalt may have been when you were memorizing the periodic table in chemistry class, this uncommon metal is generating quite a bit of buzz these days.

Cobalt is a key component in lithium-ion batteries. As automakers eager to reduce their fleet’s carbon footprint introduce more and more electric models, the demand for cobalt for those batteries is expected to quadruple by 2020 and grow eleven-fold by 2025. That demand, coupled with a short supply of the mineral, has resulted in cobalt prices jumping by over 80 per cent.

Currently, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the world’s major producer of cobalt. China and Canada come in at a tie for a very distant second place, with each country providing only six per cent of global supply. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, are warning that there is a significant risk that cobalt from the DRC is being mined in extremely dangerous conditions by children as young as seven. This, coupled with political instability, has automakers on the lookout for supply chain alternatives.

This is where the small Ontario town of Cobalt enters the picture. Cobalt, located in northern Ontario close to the Quebec border, was a major mining centre for silver over 100 years ago. In the first six decades of mining there, the town’s silver mining camps shipped almost 1.2 million tons of rich silver ore and concentrates. Between 1904 and the beginning of WWII, 70 different mining operations were located there, making it the biggest silver camp in the world at that time. While it was known that cobalt was present there too, there wasn’t enough demand for the product to justify extracting it. That thinking changed in the spring of 2016 and since then over a dozen mining companies have staked claims in the area.

First Cobalt is company with the largest land holdings in the camp there. It controls over 10,000 hectares of prospective land, 50 historic mines, a mill, and is currently the only permitted cobalt refinery in North America capable of producing battery materials. First Cobalt initiated drilling in 2017 and has confirmed the presence of three cobalt bearing veins.

Ontario isn’t the only province or territory with high hopes for cobalt mining. Deposits have also been found in the Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan. In addition to the direct mining jobs that these projects could drive, the mining industry typically generates many indirect employment opportunities in fields like environmental and technical consulting, shipping, rail, and transportation. One 2011 study found that for British Columbia’s 21,112 people directly employed in mining there were an additional 16,590 jobs indirectly created.

As one of Canada’s leading contract engineering and project staffing firms, the Ian Martin Group has decades of experience assisting mining companies to find the technical talent required to keep their projects moving forward. Whether you’re a technical professional interested in exploring exciting new opportunities in the mining industry, or you work for a mining company and are in need of some additional talent for your project, our experienced recruiters are always available to discuss how Ian Martin can help you achieve your goals.

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The Best Practices for Staffing in the Mining Industry

The mining industry is a big part of the Canadian economy. Because of our wealth of natural resources, Canada is one of the largest mining countries in the world, with mining companies employing hundreds of thousands of people across the nation. While mining workers are always in demand, and while employment within the mining industry continues to increase, finding the right workers can still be difficult. Mining is a very specialized field, requiring workers who are highly skilled labourers. In light of these challenges, here are some best practices for staffing in the mining industry.

Invest in Training

In the mining industry, being vigilant about personal and employee safety is imperative. Mining can be dangerous work; employees are regularly exposed to hazardous conditions where it is essential they have had the training necessary to know how to proceed. Mining requires skilled labour, and so as you begin to think about staffing, it is important that you also think about adequate training for new employees. Mining locations are often remote or isolated, so aid is not always easily accessible. Furthermore, since the mining takes place either outside or underground, the work is subject to sudden and extreme changes in weather and work conditions.

Statistics show that 40% of the mining industry is made up of workers who are fifty years old or older, and that by 2029, more than half of the current workforce will have retired, or been replaced. This means that increasingly, the mining industry will have to rely on younger, less experienced workers to fill positions previously occupied by older, seasoned workers. The influx of younger and more inexperienced workers means that thorough and intense training will be of vital importance to the health of your company, and overall workforce.

It is essential that you have a strong training system in place, and that this system is clearly communicated to upper and lower management. As you go about staffing, it’s also very important that the risks involved with mining and the need for specialized training are clearly communicated to potential candidates. There is often a significant disconnect between what people believe mining work looks like, and what it actually is. Thoroughly vetting candidates to make sure they are aware of the skills necessary, and are willing and able to put in the work to acquire those skills, is of the utmost importance.

Consider Contractors

Increasingly, contractors are being used more and more to staff mining jobs. According to a poll by Ardent Partners, by 2017, contingent workers (including independent contractors, statement-of-work-based labour, and freelancers) will account for almost 45 percent of the world’s total workforce. There are several reasons for this. One is that by using contractors, you can reduce employment costs. Hiring full-time workers means providing health insurance, vacation time, and potentially workers’ compensation. Those costs are eliminated when staffing with contractors.

Further, mining work also often requires a great deal of specialization; miners are carrying out specific tasks that require large amounts of training in order to be performed properly. Contractors are much more specialized then other employees, since they are often trained for a specific job. Contractors who are able to carry out specialized work are hugely advantageous to the mining industry. Finally, mining work is not always consistent. Depending on what resources you are mining, the workload can be dependent on a cycle that is out of your control. Contractors are only hired for specific—and usually short—periods of time, which works well in an industry that doesn’t always have a steady stream of work. For these reasons, when it comes to staffing, it is worth it to consider employing contract workers.

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