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Around the water cooler…

One of the recession’s greatest myths is told via the US’ 7.9% unemployment rate. If statistics are to be taken at face value, half of all American citizens are combing through the classifieds in search of the next golden career opportunity, yet, when placed in context, the figures tell quite a different tale. On October 24th 2013, The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its findings that employers are doing plenty of handwringing themselves, with a rising number of job openings that currently reflect 3.9 million national vacancies, yet actual hires are still dwindling, with the mining sector having some of the most overt underemployment rates across industries.

The economic climate appears to be offering plenty of opportunity but anxiety levels are holding it under water. Employers, afraid of making poor hiring decisions, prefer to leave vacancies unfilled rather than take the risk of bringing bad apples into the company basket. This trend is all the more overarching in the mining sector, where potential applicants withhold their resumes or CVs on the basis of a lack of international experience. A recent study conducted by MCI Consultants revealed that there is little foundation for this tendency: Head hunters filling executive positions highlighted mining industry experience as a priority, leaving globe-trotting CVs entirely unmentioned.

More than ever before, traditional experiential criteria are being tossed aside in favor of personality assessments and skill sets. Candidates’ knowledge gaps are simply filled through sturdy training programs. The dawn of executive recruitment agencies has come, as skilled corporate cupids focus on individuals’ future profitability rather than their current earning power. Progress has taken employers beyond the 20 question interview. Today, the only valid queries involve innate ability, passion and fit.

More pointedly, the US mining sector is overcoming its concerns about environmental and regulatory problems by focusing on international growth. Three quarters of mining companies are, according to the BDO’s 2013 study, intending to expand to foreign shores regardless of their current location. The regional kingpins of this expansion include South Africa, Australia, Canada, and Latin America: all regions with cultural and language barriers that US executives can overcome relatively easily.  Fly in/fly out arrangements are costly, but the sector is being pushed into capital investment to maintain its survival, with more open minded human resources departments being one of the core ways for the segment to hold its head above water.

The sector may be outperforming itself in terms of stocks but as strategy becomes a necessity for maintaining industry sustainability, risk intelligence and operations management systems become core to its future success. In order to thrive, companies will need to put dollar values onto the heads of C level candidates who have tactical management skills, even if they lack offshore work histories. There is not enough talent to power the growth of today’s mining sector, and the problem is severe enough to push companies into programs that hire through internships, university collaborations, and similar unconventional approaches, giving this year’s graduates and last year’s managers a fresh platform from which to market their career experience in a world where fortune favors those brave enough to simply submit their CVs.