Mining Maneuvers

Some jobs are just less desirable than others. They could have irregular work hours, involve physical labor or just be plain dirty. Scott Birkhead, a recruitment process outsourcing projects director at Futurestep, a talent acquisition company, recruits for a variety of positions, including those for the mining industry. He talked with Talent Management about his methods for recruiting in this unique industry. Edited excerpts follow.

Could you tell us about what you do at Futurestep?

As a project director, I manage the implementation and execution of outsourced recruiting projects for Fortune, usually Fortune 200 companies all across North America. Most of my clients are Denver based, but I have clients in other cities as well.

I understand that you’ve helped a mining company some recruit workers. What is it about mining that makes it a less desirable job?

I don’t know that the job is less desirable. I was thinking about this. I recruit in the U.S., and I recruit in Canada. In Canada, mining and logging and the road construction industry are all sort of heavy trades jobs that are actively touted within the school system in the occupational sort of tracks that they have in Canada. I think in the U.S., we’ve just gotten out of the business of pushing people into occupations, you know. There are professions, and then there are other jobs, but skilled trades occupations there just aren’t many of those.

So most people that hear about mining hear about it from somebody in their family, and typically if they’re going to be in mining, they go the professional route, and they get a mining engineering degree. But to hire skilled trades workers into the mining business has been difficult because most people just don’t know about it.

I think once you get people to know about it, then there are some other things to know, things that aren’t heralded by us in many segments of our society today. It’s very hard work. It’s physical labor. There are some unpredictable, long hours. You could work 12, 15 hours a day during the summertime. Mining is active for the most part. It’s outside work. We don’t typically work inside in mining, although some of the production jobs are inside buildings, but it’s a lot of outside work. And it’s just not predictable. It’s one of those things where if you’re looking for a nice, predictable, 8-to-5 job, 10 miles from your house, mining isn’t for you.

But it’s very interesting to people who like technical work, who like structured, physical work. They want to work with a team. They like big machines. They like being outside. It’s very great work for that. So, I think it’s just not a path that most people are given access to, and when they find it, then it just depends on whether it’s the right person or not.

What specific tactics have you used to recruit people for the company you’re recruiting for? (Editor’s note: The source declined to name his client.)

Well, again, mining work is typically done outside of large metropolitan areas, and the recruiting is specifically trying to attract a group of people. The skilled trades and the hourly level people aren’t typically on LinkedIn or other social media. So we use a lot of grassroots sorts of methods; things that I hadn’t done in years. We do lots of local, community website advertising. We do newspaper advertising. We hang fliers in towns. Lots of local community, again, whatever grassroots things that we think will fit that market.

And then, when we’re trying to find connections in local trade schools, local truck driving schools. Places where they’re putting out workers who, again, may be the right sorts of person for another industry but might find mining very attractive.

And we put a lot of physical devices in the hands of the people on those sites. So we put fliers, we put little business cards with QR codes. A lot of people in the skilled trades business don’t have computers sitting at home and aren’t surfing computers, and so everything we put out allows them to go to a mobile site and apply and see information via mobile sites pretty readily. In fact, you do some research on the truck driving industry, a lot of people in the truck driving industry are applying mobile. I think 68, 70 percent are the last numbers I saw through LinkedIn.

So again, you have to be mobile, you have to be where they are. You have to put physical devices in the hands of your local employees so that they can, as they meet people, hand out business cards, leading back to your employee referral program.

So, lots and lots of grassroots community sorts of things. I think the other thing is you’ve got to focus on the messaging, obviously, like any job. When we go find truck drivers, for instance, we’re not looking for truck drivers who want to stay in the truck all day. Some of them don’t want to get out of the truck, but ours will. They will work and dig and work on teams, and there’s a lot of physical, outdoor labor in addition to driving the truck. So we have to make sure we message correctly. We’re looking for people with CDL licenses [commercial driver’s licenses] and also for people who are currently doing a good deal of physical labor on the jobs that they’re already on.

We’re trying to teach them what the career path might look like. Mining, and especially the mining services business is one of the clients I have, it’s such a different segment that people don’t know what’s the next step after the initial job? What are the future jobs? What do they pay? What are the other technical things that I could do that would be interesting?

What benefits are provided that aren’t typical for other jobs?

Well, I don’t know if there are benefits that aren’t typical. I think that the career path, again, we talk a lot about career path. There’s a lot of training that goes to get from one job into the technical aspects of a different job. For instance, a truck driver job into a blaster job requires some specific training and certification by the state that you live in.

I believe our comp levels are really high as well. And we’re dealing with people that work pretty long hours. Not only are the hourly comp levels pretty high, but when you look at the long work hours in the summer, people are actually making a lot of money working these jobs. Again, it’s long hours, but they’re making a lot of money working.

I understand that you look for former truck drivers and veterans. What skills do the people in these fields offer the mining industry that others don’t?

Well, I did 10 years in the Air Force, so I know that the military takes in, and typically, the people that last in the military, they’re first of all, technically oriented. There’s technology around you all the time. There’s both technology and machinery. The military teaches you to think in a structured fashion about problems even though they expect you to be independent and they expect you to accomplish tasks with tools in hand, they do teach you structured ways to do things, and I think that’s really important in the mining industry for safety and following industry regulations is really important. I think it’s important to do that. So, spatial safety awareness, that independent thinking with a technical and the technology training and awareness that you get.

The military is about going home safe every day, doing your job and going home, and that’s exactly what the mining industry is about as well. Do the job, produce the product, and go home safe every day.

Anything else our readers should know about jobs that are deemed “less desirable”?

I think it’s important to crawl inside the heads of managers that you work with and the people that are successful in those jobs, just like any other job that you recruit for. I think it's a little tougher for a lot of us that are in professional business. I’ve been sitting in an office recruiting for 22 years, so it’s hard to see what those jobs are like unless you go to the mine site or you go into the manufacturing facility, and you see what those jobs are about, and you spend some time there.

But I think to crawl out of their heads, to talk to the people that are good at those jobs, really get an understanding of what those non-technical competencies are, it makes somebody successful and happy on that job. I think that’s absolutely critical. We do it in a lot of other job types, but sometimes when it’s in technical jobs like this, the workforce is really distributed across broad geographies, you don’t get the opportunity to do that, and I think that’s really critical.