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Training, skills and labour supply issues


In the near future, Ontario's mining sector may face skill and labour shortages. Worker losses, including those from retirements, combined with new demand from the expansion and development of existing and new mines will increase recruitment and training requirements within the sector. The Ministry of Colleges and Universities has developed mandatory training program standards for underground mining, which form the basis for the mining Common Core training modules. It is important to determine whether the content of these training programs and the way they are delivered will meet growing and changing workplace needs.

What We Heard

The Review heard that health and safety in the workplace is an integral part of life-long learning. It begins when students are introduced to the workplace - through co-op or 'Take Your Child To Work' programs or their first job - and continues throughout their working life. All those in the mining sector share a desired outcome: everyone wants to make sure miners come home safe at the end of every shift. With respect to training and skills development, all agree that all workers on a job-site need to be:

  • trained and competent in the skills they need to perform their tasks, including the use of any equipment they are provided or required to use
  • aware of the hazards and associated risks they may encounter in their work

Within the mining sector, there is support for the current modular training program concept and approach to training. While there is some support for making mining a registered trade and developing appropriate apprentice programs to transfer knowledge from the more experienced miner to the apprentice, most feel the current Common Core modular training model serves the sector well. Most believe that the diverse nature of mines across Ontario does not lend itself to the traditional apprenticeship model.

The concerns that do exist with the Common Core program focus mainly on how the modules are delivered and how content is kept relevant and up-to-date. For example, the Review heard that the training program would be more effective if there were: standards for trainers; better tools to evaluate the effectiveness of the training for new workers and assess trainees’ competencies once they have completed the training; and opportunities for ongoing and refresher training. At the current time, once someone has completed the modules, no further training is required. The Review questioned whether a one-time course is enough to support workers throughout their careers. In terms of keeping the training current and relevant, the Review heard that the content of the Common Core modules – particularly the modules for supervisors -- should be reviewed by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities.


Labour Supply and Workforce Challenges

Ontario’s mining sector currently employs about 26,377 workers - 12,408 of whom are working in underground mines (including mines that operate both at the underground and open pit level).

Table 5 - Ontario Mining Employment 2014 Total
Type of WorkerNumber of Workers
Underground (Full Time)10,549
Underground (Contractors)1,859
Open Pit (Full Time)4,076
Open Pit (Contractors)719
Stone, Sand and Gravel7,600
Other (R&D, Head Office, Engineering)1,574

Ontario’s mining sector is aware of the challenges associated with attracting and keeping a skilled workforce. According to a Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) analysis, by 2018, approximately 50% of the current Ontario mining workforce will have left the sector – more than half of these through retirement footnote 10 . Worker losses of this scale will create large hiring requirements and training needsfootnote 11 . In 2016, the sector will need to recruit 6,700 people just to maintain existing capacity (i.e. baseline). By 2021, the sector will need to recruit 15,810 people – or over 35% of the current mining workforce in Ontario – for the baseline scenario. footnote 12

Table 6 - Hiring requirements as determined by MiHR under three scenarios: baseline, contractionary, and expansionary human resource needs scenarios

The Advisory Group assessed the potential for future growth in Ontario’s mining sector based on information provided by the Ontario Mining Association (OMA) and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM). The Review’s analysis of labour supply made an important distinction between longer-term and regionally significant economic development projects like the Ring of Fire and mine-specific labour needs for new mines and expansions.

Based on analysis of the predictions from MNDM as well as the MiHR analysis cited above, the Review is of the opinion that there will be continued growth in the industry with new mine development and the sector will face challenges as it competes with other sectors for a limited pool of skilled workers. The long-term labour supply challenges are different for the mining sector as a whole than they are for regional development projects like the Ring of Fire or for specific new mines and expansions. Remote mines will likely find it even more challenging to recruit.

The Provincial Government has been working closely with labour and employer organizations, community stakeholders, the education sector, and relevant Health and Safety Associations to implement strategies to ensure the mining sector has the skilled workers it needs. For example, there are now more educational opportunities for students, concerted efforts to improve the industry’s image and targeted efforts to attract new talent to the north and retain them. Industry organizations are taking a proactive approach by educating students and teachers about the industry. Given that health and safety in the workplace is an important part of life-long learning, exposing secondary students to more health and safety training and awareness provides a sound beginning and a base for young people entering the workforce. Elements of health and safety are already included in a variety of places in the secondary school curriculum.

Training in the Mining Sector

In the future, the mining sector will be relying on a significant number of relatively inexperienced miners who will be working in more complex environments (i.e. deeper mines, more remote mines) with a growing number of new mining technologies and approaches. Both new and existing workers, including outside contractors, tradespeople and others, will need to be able to rapidly attain the necessary skills and training -- which is a critical part of a world-class health and safety system.

To examine current health and safety training practices, the Review examined Ontario mining companies’ policies related to health and safety training including the information covered, format of delivery (classroom, online, onsite) and duration. The Review also looked at best practices in Ontario and other global mining jurisdictions. From this assessment, the Review learned that the mining workforce across Canada, North America and internationally varies extensively, depending on the type of material mined and the methods used. Requirements for training also vary based on factors such as the type of mining and whether it is a combination of surface mines or underground mines.

Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) requires employers to provide workers with information, instruction and training to protect their health and safety, including providing supervisors with the information and instruction they need to fulfill their responsibilities under the Act. Employers engaged in mining operations must train their workers in the Common Core and Specialty Modules required by OHSA Regulation 854, Mines and Mining Plants. Employers are also required to train workers on the specific equipment/processes they will be using and to provide other training programs as needed.

Worker Training

The Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU), in consultation with the mining sector under the Mining Tripartite Committee footnote 13, develop and maintain the modular mining training programs: the Common Core Modules and the Specialty Modules. Common Core training provides mandatory entry-level training for new workers entering specific mine work environments. For example the Underground Hard Rock Miner Program #770010 consists of four mandatory Common Core and 75 Specialty Modules (which are taken as required). The four Common Core modules cover the following competencies:

  • Follow Surface and Underground Induction Procedures (U0000)
  • Perform General Inspections (U0001)
  • Scale Loose Rock (U0002)
  • Perform General Lock Out and Tag on Prime Movers and Other Related Equipment (U0012)

The Specialty Modules are mandatory hands-on competency-based workplace training (section 11, Regulation 854, Mines and Mining PlantsOHSA). Mine and mining plant employers are required to establish and maintain the appropriate modular training program(s) to train their workers. Each employer must apply to the Ministry of Colleges and Universities to grant a designated person signing authority, which means that person is accountable for ensuring the quality of training, maintaining training records and determining the competency of workers for accreditation after completing the modular training program. Each program has specific guidelines outlining program prerequisites, ministry accreditation requirements, signing authority responsibilities, trainer qualifications and audit guidelines.

Maintaining worker skills and knowledge as well as awareness of hazards on the job site are critical to health and safety. While there are requirements for the initial training of mine workers in Ontario, there is currently no formal requirement for refresher training or any mechanism to ensure workers keep up-to-date with new skills or changing technology. In terms of refresher training, the Stevenson Inquiry (1986) recommended periodic refresher courses in ground control which, then as now, was a priority hazard. The inquiry also recommended that miners should be regularly evaluated on their knowledge of current practices and given additional training if needed. In terms of training in new skills and processes, whenever new underground technologies and mining techniques are introduced, it is essential that miners receive proper and timely training.

Manager/Supervisor Training

During an assessment workshop (July 2014) facilitated by the Ministry of Labour and in other consultations, the Review heard experience and training of supervisors and managers are an important factors in workplace health and safety.

To be a supervisor in a mine, individuals must meet four key requirements:

  • hold a current WSIB approved First Aid Certificate
  • complete the full Basic Common Core training for underground hard rock miner
  • be registered in the Supervisor Common Core module
  • meet the OHSA definition of a competent person.

At the current time in Ontario, individuals can start supervisory duties in a mine before completing their Supervisory Common Core. In 2012, the number of pre-requisites modules in the Supervisor Common Core was reduced and, in the opinion of subject matter experts, these changes reduced the robustness of the training. When the Review compared Ontario’s manager/supervisor training requirements with those in other jurisdictions in Canada, the United States and internationally, it found that other jurisdictions have unique or distinct training requirements for both underground mine managers and supervisors that do not currently exist in Ontario. For example, some jurisdictions have specific requirements that apply to a “mine manager”, including:

  • a specific post-secondary degree in a mine engineering discipline or valid documentation from an equivalent certifying authority
  • relevant experience in underground mining for a specified period of time (up to five years) and specific mine work experience such as one year working at a working face
  • firsthand experience as a supervisor
  • knowledge of applicable legislation and underground mine rescue operations of the mine.

In addition, some jurisdictions have specific requirements for supervisors, including:

  • completing specific courses of study, including the role of a supervisor in health and safety management systems and ground control
  • completing any required training as soon as reasonably practicable after being designated a manager (in some jurisdictions, supervisors who could demonstrate various combinations of experience, education or training would be considered to already have equivalent training)
  • being mentored by another supervisor for a minimum number of hours.

Executive/Company-wide Training

Dr. James Ham in reflecting on the Occupational Health and Safety Act said if he “were to make one change to the legislation, it would be to make CEOs more responsible for the health and safety performance of their company.”footnote 14To truly protect worker health and safety, mining companies must develop a culture of health and safety throughout the organization. It is critical that all people within the company be familiar with health and safety rules, processes and obligations while operating in Ontario.

The commitment of the senior Mine Manager sets the whole tone for a safety culture. Other jurisdictions have recognized the need for senior management to be actively engaged in health and safety by establishing minimum requirements. In some cases, as indicated above, they have established expectations related to experience and training; in others, they require professional accreditation to be a Mine Manager. In Ontario there are no such pre-requisites.

Challenges in Ensuring Consistent High Quality Training

The mining sector faces two key issues in ensuring high quality training: keeping training program content up to date and ensuring the training is delivered consistently in all sites.

The Mining Tripartite Committee is responsible for developing and updating training programs and advising the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) on training modules. This collaborative group can be an effective mechanism for continually improving mine safety training in Ontario. The Committee would benefit from consistent capacity and permanent representation from the Ministry of Colleges and Universities. The Review heard that, while the Committee is doing excellent work, it must have access to resources to operate at a consistent high level.

The Review also heard that the quality of training delivery can vary from worksite to worksite. In 2008, Signing Authority Audit guidelines were established by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities to address the issue of consistency by standardizing key aspects of training development, delivery and reporting. However, this audit is self-conducted by the signing authority, kept within the firm and not reviewed by a third party. There is currently no means to determine the quality and consistency of training in the sector. Some ongoing work at the Ministry of Labour with regard to creating training program and provider standards could provide a model for enhancing the delivery of training in the sector.

Mining as a Trade

During the public consultations, some people expressed the opinion that mining should be a trade but there was much more support for the current Common Core training modules. The Review examined best practices in other jurisdictions, as well as other Canadian approaches to certification (e.g. MiHR Canadian Mining Certification program). If underground mining were a trade or a certified program (as proposed by MiHR), the skills could be more portable – for both workers and employers. However, higher training requirements could create a barrier to workers entering the field or currently working in the sector, which could be problematic for an industry facing potential labour recruitment challenges over the next decade. At this stage in the sector’s development, the Review is not recommending making mining a trade.


  • 4.1 Enhance supervisor and management training by:
    • Requiring the Mining Tripartite Committee, which supports the development of Common Core training, to present to the Ministries of Labour and Training, Colleges and Universities options and recommendations to enhance supervisor and management health and safety training
    • Requesting the Mining Tripartite Committee to review the pre-requisites for Supervisor Common Core training and determining the best format for this training (e.g. classroom learning, hands-on experience).
  • 4.2 Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development to engage in discussions with the Ministry of Colleges and Universities about the quality and consistency of Common Core training delivery in the underground mining sector, evaluate the current state of that training, and identify circumstances where refresher training may be appropriate.


  • footnote[10] Back to paragraph Mining Industry Human Resources Council, “Ontario Labour Market Demand Project”, 2009.
  • footnote[11] Back to paragraph Ibid Mining Industry Human Resources Council, “Ontario Labour Market Demand Project”, 2009.
  • footnote[12] Back to paragraph Mining Industry Human Resources Council, “Canadian Mining Industry Employment and Hiring Forecasts 2011,”
  • footnote[13] Back to paragraph The Mining Tripartite Committee consists of an equal number of industry labour and management representatives as well as representatives from the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development and Colleges and Universities.
  • footnote[14] Back to paragraph Report of the Provincial Inquiry into Health and Safety in the Pulp and Paper Industry, April 1990.
Updated: March 01, 2022
Published: March 01, 2022