J.C. Doyle. Courtesy of ODENetwork

The mining industry is facing increasing labour shortages and competing with other industries for talent like never before. Engaging with broader labour markets to fill current and future roles is critical. But is this happening in the mining sector? Yes and no.   

The sector has been focused on hiring more women and visible minorities. However, workplace diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies that target under-represented groups beyond gender and ethnicity will attract an even wider and more diverse workforce. 

Any business that intentionally recruits people who have a disability will be accessing a large talent pool of skilled, qualified people who aren’t being engaged. The problem is this: disability is still too often left out of DEI strategies.

The hiring challenge – and solution

The “2020 Canadian Mining Labour Market Outlook” from the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) predicted the need to hire almost 80,000 workers over the next decade. Here’s the challenge:

» Other sectors are facing the same shortages and are competing for the same job seekers in a labour pool that is shrinking due to low unemployment rates.

» Waves of retiring workers are also complicating the labour shortage, with annual mining-sector retirements predicted to reach 6,660 in 2029–2030, according to that MiHR labour outlook report.

Including workers who have a disability must be part of the mining sector’s labour solution to these challenges.

A 2019 TD Economics report titled “Canadians With Disabilities: Seizing the Opportunity,” made this candidly clear. The report noted that companies that don’t hire people who have a disability aren’t going to be competitive.

“Rethinking Disability in the Private Sector — Report from the Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities,” published in 2013 by Employment and Social Development Canada, noted that almost 800,000 working-age Canadians who have a disability aren’t working, though their disability doesn’t prevent them from working. It is the employment barriers they face that does.

Of these 800,000 people, almost 43 per cent (340,000 people) have a post-secondary diploma or degree.

And disability is increasing: currently, about 22 per cent of Canadians (6.2 million people over the age of 15) have a disability. That number is expected to grow to 25 per cent by 2025.

Disability is the largest minority group in the world. Any one of us can join it any time – and we likely will as we age – because disability doesn’t discriminate.

The benefits and barriers

Beyond the fact that access to employment is a basic human right, there are business benefits to consider. A 2018 Accenture report noted that companies with a disability-inclusive culture outperform businesses that don’t, including: 28 per cent higher revenue; 30 per cent higher profit margins; and 90 per cent more employee retention.

Research shows that attitudes and misconceptions about people who have a disability in the workplace are two major barriers keeping them from getting hired. Those misconceptions include these pervasive myths about disability and employment:

Poor performance. A 30-year DuPont study showed 90 per cent of workers who have a disability score “average” or “above average” on performance.

Poor attendance. According to the same DuPont study, the attendance record of 86 per cent of employees who have a disability is “average” or “above average.”

Poor safety. Research shows people who have a disability work more safely than other employees. They take fewer chances and more often follow training protocols and stick to routines than other workers.

High turnover. Workers who have a disability are five times more likely to stay in the job than other staff. Retention rates are 72 per cent higher than for employees without disabilities.

Accommodations are costly. Multi-year research by the Job Accommodation Network showed most accommodations cost little or nothing. A one-time cost of $500 was reported by 37 per cent of employers surveyed.

Shifting your focus

Companies that want to stay successful must focus on making their operations inclusive of all. It’s as simple as that.

When it comes to recruiting, companies need to stop getting hung up on an ideal of a traditional candidate and focus on the actual “must-haves” – the hard and soft skills and abilities needed to succeed in a specific role.

In my view, these are “must-haves” for successful DEI recruitment:

» Have a disability-inclusion strategy that’s intentional and has clear, measurable targets and outcomes.

» Speak directly and genuinely to the disability community.

» Build in disability inclusion to existing outreach and workforce development. For example, the mining industry puts a lot of effort into engaging and training the next generation of workers. Be sure to include students who have a disability in internships, mentorship programs, co-ops and summer jobs. Also connect with post-secondary institutions. And establish relationships with local employment-service providers that serve people with disabilities.

» Use disability-inclusive job sites to gather information and source talent. (One new and innovative recruitment platform is Jobs Ability Canada.)

» Train your teams to be disability aware and confident – connect with organizations specializing in this.

The shift in attitudes must be driven from top down, with support provided to managers and supervisors to get buy-in at all levels.

Step out, step up, follow the lead for success

Step out of your comfort zone. Do what Vale did in its Brazilian operation to begin its disability-inclusion journey.

In 2016, Vale hired 208 people who have a disability through an employee referral campaign promoted internally and on social networks. The following year, Vale reported about 1,700 Brazil employees who have a disability, working in a wide range of positions, including operational functions – shredding the myth that disability is an obstacle to mining-related activities. Vale Brazil set a 2021 goal of having five per cent of its workforce inclusive of people who have a disability. As of September 2022, Vale Brazil’s workforce included 2,700 employees (5.5 per cent) who have a disability.

It is long past time to follow Vale’s lead. Because getting left behind in the mining dust over disability inclusion won’t be good for your business in the long haul.

 J.C. Doyle is a diversity, equity and inclusion specialist for the Ontario Disability Employment Network.