Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Madam Chair and committee members, for the opportunity to appear as a witness and to address the committee this morning.
My name is Ryan Montpellier and I'm the executive director at the Mining Industry Human Resources Council, also known as the MiHR council, which is an industry-driven, non-profit organization that leads the development of solutions to the industry's HR issues.
Our goal, very simply, is to build a diverse, sustainable, skilled, and safe Canadian mining workforce that is recognized globally. To accomplish this goal we do not work in isolation. We work with almost all major mining companies in Canada, with contractors, with equipment suppliers, with aboriginal groups, with post-secondary educational institutions, and with a number of other stakeholder partners.
My talk this morning aims to give you a bit of an overview of some of the labour market issues affecting the mining industry in Canada. As you all know, the mining sector employs a number of occupations that are STEM related and, in particular, I'll spend the majority of my talk this morning talking about female participation in the mining industry and some of the barriers and challenges and opportunities that exist with regard to their women's participation in the mining sector.
Let me start by providing a little bit of context as to some of the challenges currently facing the mining sector and its labour market. We're essentially facing what we've called the perfect storm. We have a sector that is growing at the same time we have an industry that is aging. According to the Mining Association of Canada, about $100 billion of new mining projects are currently going through the environmental assessment and permitting phases. Even if a small fraction of those mining projects come to fruition, that will mean a significant increase in the growth of the sector and cause a significant amount of strain on an already tight labour market.
The mining industry also is not immune to the aging workforce. In fact, about 40% of the mining industry workforce today is over 45 years old and one third of the industry will be eligible to retire in the next five years. Compounding this problem is the question of where we are going to find the next generation of miners and from where we are going to recruit these individuals. As you can probably guess, most major mining projects are not located in large urban centres. They are more and more in rural and remote locations in Canada, and many of them are fly-in/fly-out operations which, in itself, is a challenge not only to men but also to women and everyone.
Very few kids grow up today saying, “When I'm older, I want to be a miner”. This is often a second or a third career after the first few options don't work out. Also, the mining industry has not done as great a job as it could have in attracting new Canadians and women. If you put all of this together, you have a very daunting task, which is to hire what we are forecasting to be over 100,000 workers in the next decade, and that's under a very moderate growth scenario. If, as the World Bank is forecasting, commodity prices do rebound, we will need to hire upwards of 125,000 new workers over the course of the next decade. Clearly, there's no silver bullet here and there's no simple way of attracting this next generation of mine workers.
The industry today is implementing a very sophisticated strategy to ensure that down the line we have the right people with the right skills, at the right time. One pillar of that strategy is to make better use of all potential sources of supply, which includes making better use of and attracting and retaining and developing more women, more aboriginal people, and more new Canadians.
There are a number of initiatives under way that I could speak to with respect to aboriginal engagement and engagement of new Canadians, but for the remainder of my talk this morning I'll focus on attracting, retaining, and developing women in our sector.
I'd like to start by saying that women today are working in the mining industry more than they ever have before. In fact, today women represent 17% of the mining workforce—that's almost 38,000 women—and although that is not necessarily a number to be proud of, it has increased by over 40% in the last decade, so we are trending in the right direction.
We fully acknowledge that female participation in the labour force as a whole is much closer to 50%—it's in the 48% range—and that we as an industry have a lot of work to do to attract and retain more women in our sector.
When we drill down a little and look at the specific occupations where females do participate in the mining industry, we see that over 50% of females in the workplace are working in HR, finance, and administrative and support roles. However, when we look specifically at the STEM-related occupations, the occupations that are specific to skilled trades or production—we're talking about miners and equipment operators—we see that number fall to under 10%. For many occupations, that number is 5%. In some occupations, it's as low as 2%. In the professional and physical sciences and technical occupations—here we're talking about geology, mining engineering, the geosciences, and metallurgists—that number is about 20%, which is on par with other sectors of the economy.
Obviously, doing more to attract, recruit, and retain women is a priority for our sector. To do that, we need to knock down some of the barriers. I'd now like to give you a few examples of some of the barriers we've found as a result of some of the research we've done.
The first barrier is the lack of career awareness and the lack of interest that women have in the sector. MiHR recently conducted a survey of 2,000 career-seekers—1,000 men and 1,000 women—between the ages of 18 and 24. These individuals were looking for a career at that moment. Unfortunately, only 7.5% of women surveyed indicated that they agreed or strongly agreed that they would consider mining for employment, and only 8.5% of women indicated that they agreed or strongly agreed that mining offered jobs that interested them.
As an industry, we need to change these perceptions. We need to do a better job of communicating with regard to the rewarding careers and the modern careers that exist in our sector.
The second barrier we have identified is around workplace culture. Studies conducted by MiHR, by Women in Mining Canada, and by the B.C. labour shortage task force have all indicated that workplace culture in the mining sector is often thought of as male-dominated and as a deterrent to women's retention in the sector.
We recently wrapped up a national survey of mining workers, an employee survey, and we found that women respondents were more likely than men to find it a challenge to adapt to mining work culture. The majority of men and women respondents indicated that it is harder for a woman than for a man to succeed in their workplace, yet 70% of all respondents did say that mining companies are putting in place programs to encourage a respectful, welcoming workplace. Clearly, 70% is a number that we want to increase, and we want all mining companies and suppliers to build workplaces that are inclusive and respectful.
The third challenge that I wanted to highlight is career advancement. Career progression and advancement is a complex topic. In our research, a lack of career advancement opportunities was identified as a barrier by women.
Additionally, research has indicated that women's careers in mining are stalling despite interest in further advancement. Our research suggests that one cause of this may be the lack of role models and the lack of direct mentorship. Without visible role models and mentors, it was more difficult for women to navigate and progress in their careers in a male-dominated environment. Also, and not surprisingly, women were more likely to have taken parental leave. In the research we did, parental leave was identified as having a negative impact on an individual's career path.
What can be done to increase participation of women in the sector and in STEM occupations in particular? Well, the first building block to put in place, I believe, is taking a long-term view and creating the supply of workers by investing in career awareness and promotion for the occupations that will be most in demand, and those are the STEM-related occupations.
Promoting a positive and accurate image of the mining industry and the careers it offers is also essential to support career awareness efforts. Employers are already doing a lot of this in supporting work placements for young women, providing mine tours, and bringing women on site. We have done a number of programs and pre-employment programs to help women transition to the sector.
The second area I would identify is that of providing more flexible work arrangements. This was identified as a key barrier in that the mining industry and our work schedules were quite rigid and were not conducive to individuals who, in some instances, also wanted to raise a family.
To support advancement, workplace culture must also be better understood. MiHR is currently researching workplace culture barriers, and we will be publishing a study on this in the fall of this year.
Over the next three years MiHR will be implementing our new project on addressing systemic barriers to gender equity in mining, which will address the invisible barriers that exist in current mining policies and procedures and hinder the inclusion of women. Ultimately, the project will expedite the institutional change necessary to improve gender equity in the Canadian mining industry.
Finally, many mining employers today are making remarkable strides with respect to gender diversification, and we are encouraging them to share their strategies and results. This transparency has already started at the board level with securities regulators in Canada, in Ontario and Quebec in particular, now requiring publicly traded Canadian companies to disclose gender diversity indicators and practices. Deploying a similar reporting or disclosure mechanism to all levels of an organization, not just around the board table, would encourage more companies to adopt gender diversity policies and practices throughout their organization.
I'll end it there. I think I've surpassed my ten minutes.
Thank you very much.
Distinguished committee members, thank you for inviting me to appear today.
I'd like to start with a story that will illustrate how important it is to individuals and to us as a nation to champion the cause of women in trades. It's the story of one of our participants. Her name is Kaitlin. She lives in the Okanagan College region and she came from a family in which income assistance was a generational challenge. Her mother and her grandmother had been on income assistance for years and years. In order for her to take a trades foundation program at Okanagan College, she would need to let go of that assistance, and that was a real challenge for her based on her family history. So with a lot of support and encouragement, Kaitlin decided to take a student loan and enrol in the welding program. She completed the program and within 60 days of program completion she was hired at a job site in Alberta. After eight to 10 months of work, she returned to the campus to check in and see about incentives for apprentices and also to bring her T4 slip to show to the chairperson of the welding department that she had earned over $120,000 that year. She was actually excited to file her first ever tax return to show earned income. I think for her whole family this was a win.
Just to give you a little bit of background on Okanagan College, we provide women in trades training programs across four regions of the southern interior of British Columbia. We were fortunate enough to receive funding from 2008 to 2014 through the labour market agreement funding. Currently we are receiving funding through the Canada jobs fund agreement. During this time we've trained more than 650 women who have participated in over 800 training interventions.
I'm pleased to report to you today that this ongoing investment in and commitment to skills training for women is working well in British Columbia. Prior to the Women in Trades initiative at Okanagan College, women made up only 7% of the total number of students in trades and apprenticeship programs. Over this time period, so within six years, we now represent over 13%, so we have effectively doubled the rate of participation by women in six years. There's still a lot of work to do, but the trend is going in the right direction, especially when demographics are pointing to a gap between the number of jobs that will be available and the number of people who will fill them.
We consider ourselves to be a service and support centre because our funding pays for training interventions for the women but also for a lot of different supports. We deliver two streams of training. The first one is an exploratory program that's 12 weeks long. That program is open to any woman who meets the eligibility criteria and has a general interest in exploring trades as a career. It's an all-female introductory program in which women get to have hands-on experience in five or six different trades. Embedded in this program are essential skills training and also employment readiness training. We find that these are some of the things that are barriers to women getting jobs in trades. These help women to build confidence as well as to make an informed decision about which trade they would like to pursue for a career.
The second stream of training is in the trades foundation programs like welding, which I mentioned earlier. These women are ready to be integrated into the already-scheduled trades foundation programs and work alongside their male counterparts to get ready for employment on the job. In this type of program they receive level one technical training towards their apprenticeship. Most of our apprenticeships are four years in length, and so this gives them the first year and a good start at employment.
We usually train between 100 and 110 women per year. Of the women who take the trades foundation programs and become certified in a specific discipline, 75% will become employed within six months of completing their training. Approximately 50% of the women who participate in the exploratory Gateway to the Building Trades for Women program will move on to take that next step of further training to make them more employable. Only 1% of people who take the exploratory gateway program go directly into work and become apprentices. Most of our women require further training to make a meaningful connection with the labour market in skilled trades.
We have a unique approach. Collaboration and design are important aspects of our program as is working closely with the communities where we deliver programming. Employers have been generous in allowing us access to industry mentors, and those are a crucial part of our program. The industry mentors are women in trades who have often been in trades for 25 or 30 years, from a time before these were women-friendly types of occupations. They have developed skills that are really valuable to share with our new women coming in, and so we rely heavily on our industry mentors to support our program.
Early engagement is vital to increasing participation of women over the long run, so we do some work with the school districts as well to try to engage the instructional staff in the K-to-12, and most specifically the K-to-9 system, to help them understand the role of trades and how important they are, because without their help in bringing that to the younger women, we are not going to get them interested. We are learning that they make their career plans in grades 7 and 8, so we know we need to be talking to them before that. And, wouldn't you know, most of the elementary school teachers are women. So we need to work with them so they're not afraid of the tools.
We deliver an event called Maker Days. This has grown out of the Maker Movement and this has been a great way to engage younger women. We do it for elementary school groups, usually 80 or 100 kids. We give them an ill-defined problem and let them work on developing a solution and building a prototype. This has been a really great way to engage women in trades and STEM activities. We also do the Maker Days as a professional development activity for the instructors, to put them through the paces. This takes a lot of their fear away so they can bring these types of activities back to their students.
At the college we also engage in other activities to focus on engaging younger people. We have a spaghetti bridge-building contest. We have RoboCup. We have trade simulators that we drag to the schools and we let everyone try to lay down a bead for welding, and we have outreach programs.
We offer participant supports to our women who are in programs. They are program-specific and tailored to meet the needs of individual women. The barriers are different for different women. We sponsor them for tuition, books, tools, and what we call personal protective equipment, PPE, which is trade-specific. Other supports include access to industry mentors, which I've mentioned, and peer tutors, as well as upgrading, counselling, and job coaches. The women in trades team provides an ear if someone is having a rough day or needs moral support and encouragement. Also, there's a referral centre for other types of supports. Participants can access fitness equipment and group classes to gain strength and flexibility to avoid injury on the job.
I'm going to give you another example, of someone named Alyssa. It shows how some of these supports come into play.
Alyssa heard about our program through a teammate at a soccer match and she was interested, so she joined the Gateway program. She was one of the very few who went to work directly after completing the Gateway program, so she became an apprentice at a family-owned construction company and was part of a framing crew. After a year on the job, she came back into college for her level-one technical training, but she really struggled with the math. She got a tutor assigned by our team, and by working with the tutor for three weeks, she was able to pass her level one and carry on with her job. After about another year, she was injured on the job and she was off work for a couple of months. At that time she considered leaving carpentry after being quite badly injured. So we assigned an industry mentor who worked with her for a period of several weeks. Alyssa returned to the job and is still working as a carpenter today. Fast forward until now, and she's on track to get her Red Seal certification by the end of this year, and we have hired her back as an industry mentor to support the new women coming into training this year.
We've been having some challenges. We have capacity issues. Our college is too small. We don't have enough space to train enough women, so we are undergoing a $33-million trades expansion and renovation project. That is going to increase access for all kinds of people. We're going to build a new trades centre and that's going to increase capacity for women, and of course, in order to increase capacity, we require further funding. The challenge is that we are only able to bid for and acquire a certain number of dollars of support for our women, and that does hold us back.
Retention is an emerging issue for women in the trades. We know there's a problem with women staying in the trade after the first year. A lot of them are dropping off after that first year. We also know that a four-year apprenticeship is not a straightforward path for many of our women. It may take up to seven years for them to complete that traditional, four-year apprenticeship, mainly because of stopping for children and things like that. Life gets in the way.
Women are struggling without mentorship on the job, and some workplaces are still less than desirable, and that makes them feel uncomfortable. So we're learning that women without adequate support on the job are leaving for other employment. We have a best practices guide for employing women in the trades. There's a free link I've included in my presentation.
I just want to finish up and say that there's a strong need for continued investment in skills training for women and other non-traditional learner groups. Additionally, we need to examine post-training employment challenges and work with employers to create the necessary conditions to support our non-traditional workers. I have noticed a positive shift in the culture and environment in skilled trades training to make it more welcoming to non-traditional participants, and as we increase the number of female participants in trades training programs, and correspondingly in industry, a new culture is emerging.
Kaitlin and Alyssa are just two of the 650 success stories that we could tell about Okanagan College's Women in Trades program. With ongoing investment from the federal and provincial governments, we could turn that number into thousands, or hundreds of thousands.
Thank you very much.
There's only a little bit of talking.
This was taken a couple of weeks ago in Iqaluit, Nunavut. In the clip, you saw Inuit and northern girls who were part of the throat singing club learning coding skills they then used to capture the sounds of their throat songs in a piece of software and then recode those sounds into music they could then share with their friends, family, and so on. They were building STEM skills, applying their traditional culture, and learning about opportunities for the future in STEM fields.
Actua is a national organization with two decades of experience delivering programs that break down barriers to youth participation in STEM. Actua represents a national network of university- and college-based members who annually engage 225,000 youth, ages 6 to 26, in 500 communities across the country.
We work with corporate sector partners like GE, Suncor, GlaxoSmithKline, and Google to connect these youth with leading-edge STEM content and careers.
Within our broad national mandate, for the past 20 years we have led an initiative to ensure the equal representation of women and girls in skilled trades and STEM fields.
The evidence of the under-representation of women in skilled trades in STEM is indisputable. It is also well established that the early engagement of girls in these fields is critical. What needs more focus and attention within this broader topic—and where I will focus my comments today—is the significant and mounting under-representation of women in computer science and the absolute imperative that exists to engage girls in building competency in these fields now. I would argue this is a prerequisite to their engagement in skilled trades and STEM.
Encouraging girls in computer science is not only about making sure we have more women computer scientists. We live in a digital world where every aspect of our lives is controlled by computer science. Computers are revolutionizing every field from the construction trades to health care, environmental sustainability, politics, and art. If girls don't learn to code, which is really the language of computers, they will be left behind, period. Canada risks losing the critical perspective of women in the digital economy.
Over the past 20 years, Actua has developed successful models for the engagement of girls in STEM. We focus on building self-confidence and self-efficacy. We expose them to inspiring female role models and allow them to imagine themselves in these fields in the future.
Actua is annually engaging 100,000 girls in these experiences, which are not only fuelling the pipeline for skilled trades in STEM but also helping them to develop critical life and employability skills such as collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, and financial and technical proficiency.
We apply our model to reach all girls with a significant focus on engaging aboriginal girls through our national aboriginal outreach program, which annually engages 30,000 aboriginal youth across Canada.
As you saw in the video, we engage with communities to make strong cultural connections that are inspiring aboriginal girls to take their place in the digital world. In October 2014 Actua and Google launched a three-year project called Codemakers to transform how youth engage with computer science.
In the early phase of establishing a national strategy, we've confirmed three big challenges. The first is an almost complete lack of formal computer science content in Canadian schools. The second is the ongoing myth among parents and teachers that because youth are such great consumers of technology, that translates into their understanding how that technology works. The third is a lack of awareness about why these fields are so important beyond just making sure we have enough computer scientists in the future. And as I have said, this is particularly critical for girls.
Actua's new partnership with Google is contributing to a national strategy to address these challenges. We're infusing our national girls program and our national aboriginal outreach program with experiences that transform the way they view computer science. We start by situating how computer science impacts their lives. We work with the girls to build technology skills so they can then apply them and design and build their own technology. We'll also address the critical topics of online safety, digital citizenship, and cyberbullying, but in a different, more empowering way.
Instead of telling the girls how to behave online, we're actually going to show them the computer science behind these messages. As we do this direct work with girls, we're also developing tools and resources to train their influencers—specifically parents, teachers, and community leaders. Through 20 years of experience and research, we know that these are the people with the most significant ongoing influence on whether girls study and stay in STEM fields. This is particularly critical for the skilled trades.
I also want to underscore the importance of the partnership with Google, not only because they're one of the largest and most ubiquitous technology companies in the world, but because this is an excellent example of the kind of multisectoral approach to create real systemic change in this area. The success of Actua's model, beyond the amazing experiences that we're providing to girls, is leveraged greatly by drawing on partnerships with universities and colleges, with governments, and with industry.
I love that video clip you saw at the beginning, because it reinforces all of the messages I'm speaking about today. Given the right exposure, girls will come to understand the importance of computer science in ways they otherwise would not have considered. Given positive role models, they'll start to see themselves in these fields in the future, and given the support, they will build essential skills in these areas and share what they have learned with their families.
Based on our experience working with hundreds of thousands of girls across the country and the new initiative that we're taking on within computer science, I have three recommendations for you to consider.
First, we need to recognize and promote the fact that computer science and digital skills are a kind of basic literacy. They are prerequisites to the successful engagement of girls in skilled trades and in STEM. They're also essential for the future economic resilience and independence of girls far beyond just computer science fields.
Second, Canada has to be prepared to make a huge leap here. We need big, bold goals, so I encourage you to provide financial support for evidence-based, multisectoral models that can be scaled up significantly, and to put girls in the driver's seat of developing content that will inspire them to become the innovators and technology producers of tomorrow.
Third, the influencers need to be equipped. Invest in programs and content that support teachers, parents, and other influencers to ensure that their daughters become the leaders of tomorrow's digital economy.
Thank you very much.
Certainly some of these barriers are quite obvious. I can give you a few examples.
If you look at the facilities that exist underground in some of the mines, with washrooms in different parts of the mine, historically these were not in place to accommodate women, and today they are. I won't say in all mines, but today we do have both male and female washrooms underground in certain locations.
It's even a matter of things like having the right PPE, the personal protective equipment. We saw this year on the CBC show Dragons' Den that somebody struck a deal for overalls that were now female friendly. That's from our industry, and Women in Mining Canada in particular have completely endorsed this sort of thing.
These were barriers that existed. When we're not providing our employees with the right equipment to do their job effectively, how can we expect them to be retained in the sector? It takes so much effort to attract somebody to the industry, but once we bring them in, if we don't equip them properly, they leave.
Those are some examples of the very obvious practices or policies in place that we are trying to change. There are other ones that may be less obvious, and I'll give you an example involving the way work is being scheduled. Many of the mines today offer shift work and require a 12-hour shift, and you only work four days a week. That may work for some individuals, but we have found that it certainly doesn't work for the majority of women or young men who have families at home.
So part of this project is trying to accommodate different policies and procedures or identify these policies and procedures that may be in place. The mining company may not be aware it is discriminating against women, but the result of the policy is that fewer people are interested in working for it. And part of what we're trying to do is identify those barriers and help companies address them systematically.