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Mentoring mining’s next generation

Young mining pros need many things. Luckily, you know all of them, writes Lindsey Schultz, CEO of MRC Recruiting

By Lindsey Schultz, CEO of MRC Recruiting

When I speak with college professors, I hear a lot about how bright their students are, how inquisitive they are, and how they seem to know much more than their instructors did at that age. What I also hear, though, is that engaging is tough for younger people, that they have a difficult time initiating small talk, making eye contact and feeling confident in their nascent abilities.

Lindsey Schultz is the CEO of MRC Recruiting, providing resource companies with experienced and leading high-potential candidates to build a sustainable workforce

Surely some of those tendencies stem from spending 2-3 years of their formative educational years trying to engage with teachers and classmates via a screen? The pandemic was tough on all of us, but those in their early 20s likely missed a good portion of growth that many of us know as forthrightness.

I have witnessed young people come out of their shells though through formal and informal mentorship. I’ve seen students who were visibly uncomfortable with a handshake blossom into confident young mining professionals, eager to learn and to propel our industry forward.

Longtime mining professionals who invest the time in drawing out college students may also be surprised by what they find.

We have the amazing challenge of helping the world move toward electrification and decarbonisation, but we need to attract new people to our industry at all experience levels. We need to build the next generation of mining professionals and bridge the gap to build diverse and inclusive teams.

Here are some tips to help make a formal mentorship/internship programme, like the American Exploration & Mining (AEMA) Society, or an informal one, worthwhile for both parties.

Set the ground rules

Find out what’s expected of you as a mentor. Ask what the student wants to focus on and the time they’re willing to commit. Knowing they’d like to strengthen skills in a specific activity can help you direct your energy in a fruitful way.

Ensure the goals you set are realistic. A six-, nine- or 12-month internship isn’t going to make anyone an expert, but it can provide a student with a solid foundation upon which to build.

Be inquisitive

I once had a mentee who worried he was asking too many questions. I contend that there’s no such thing.

Let the young person know that there isn’t ever too pedantic a question. And understand that they’re there to learn both the business skills and the unwritten workplace employment, industry and interpersonal skills.

They’re always watching you, so it’s always ok to drop tidbits about taking notes during meetings, how to address senior executives, or navigate a project that seems overwhelming.

Hi, my name is…

While in the throes of this exciting time, introduce your mentee to as many people as possible so they can soak up as much as possible.

Walk around the mine site, plant or office hallways. Bring coffee or a snack to share to help break the ice. These internships are meant to expose students to as much as possible, and just because you’re assigned to the production scheduling team, doesn’t mean you can’t also expose them to systems such as Vulcan or AutoCAD. 

The mining industry needs to attract new people at all experience levels. Image: Unsplash

Never say goodbye. Because goodbye means going away, and going away means forgetting

Yes, I shamelessly stole that line from Peter Pan, but it illustrates my last tip.

When your mentor/mentee relationship has ended or the internship is over, prepare a letter of recommendation they can use in the future. It doesn’t have to be long but give concrete examples of things the student learned or were exposed to. Write it generically and they can use it multiple times in the future.

Then, maintain the connection you made. Let the student know you’re available to them in the future in a more ad-hoc fashion. Stay in touch via LinkedIn, at conferences or just an email out of the blue. Maintaining and growing these relationships is time well spent and can be profitable in the future.

I’ve had former interns reach out to me a decade or more after we worked together. Sometimes they’re looking for career advice, sometimes they’re celebrating a milestone event or letting me know of a position coming open at their company.

Shape the industry’s future

Mining is a unique industry full of smart, passionate professionals. The Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration has forecast that by 2029, more than half the current workforce will be retired. Half!

That’s only six short years from now, and the exodus promises to leave a large skill and knowledge gap between our senior leadership and our entry-level professionals.

Do your part to ensure mining continues to be a vibrant option for young people. 

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