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Experts: Miners must attract millennials, seek diversity to remain competitive

Amid several discussions regarding the need for mining companies to collaborate, innovate and de-risk themselves, a common thread at an industry event this week was about the importance of attracting diverse talent to the sector.

During the Future of Mining Americas conference in Denver, several mining experts noted a lack of diversity in the global mining industry and highlighted the importance of attracting talented millennials to the workforce. Namely, speakers said the younger generations care more about the impact companies have on communities, society and the planet than they do about simply making money.

Afzal Jessa, chief digital officer with mining major Vale SA, said there is plenty of competition for a skilled workforce.

"We all recognize there's a talent gap," Jessa said during a panel discussion, "One of the things we are actually doing is we're actually competing for the same talent."

Joshua Serfass, vice president of corporate development with Integra Resources Corp., which is developing a gold-silver project in Idaho, told attendees during an Oct. 22 presentation that millennials care greatly about social inequality and climate change, believing that governments and corporations need to step up and address these issues. Mining companies need to better cater to this demographic to attract workers as well as their potential investments, Serfass said.

"Millennials are inherently suspect of motives of corporations," Serfass said. "They do not believe that corporations consider the consequences of their decisions when pushing forward an agenda. That is something we need to change."

While many millennials should be attracted to the travel and adventure potential of a career in mining, Serfass said, the industry needs to better market itself to the demographic. Serfass also encouraged mining companies to stop trying to avoid the limelight and instead make themselves as transparent as possible, demonstrating what they do well and acknowledging areas they are actively trying to improve.

The millennial generation is passionate about trying to solve issues pertaining to safety, social responsibility and the environment, according to Lesley Warren, director of the Lassonde Institute of Mining, a mining research institute at the University of Toronto.

"Not only do you solve your talent pipeline issue, you're also generating truly new innovative solutions that will change the face of this industry," Warren said during a same-day panel discussion, "and you're dealing with those risk factors that will increase your bottom line, will increase shareholders coming to the table."

The critical piece is shifting from recruiting diverse talent to retaining it and supporting women and minorities in the sector, Warren said in an interview. While this has been a slow-moving process, Warren thinks that industry executives are more actively discussing the need to diversify. They now need to start putting money forward and taking action to make that happen, Warren said.

"You're hearing this from the ground up," Warren said. "It has to be top-down. It has to be that cultural, structural shift."

Ian Pearce, a former mining executive with more than 35 years of experience in the industry and chair of the New Gold Inc. board, said diversity of thought needs to come from a multitude of things, such as culture gender and age.

"That brings various lenses on the problem," Pearce said, "and by collaborating, you solve that problem."