TIMMINS -- Administrators at Laurentian University and Northern College are saying the pressure is on to meet the looming demand for workers in the mining industry.

Industry reports show around 40 per cent of mine workers are set to retire by 2030, which Northern College's training division head Christine Heavens said will heavily affect northern Ontario's workforce.

"For our region alone, the mining sector workforce identified that they would require 2,819 trained workers over the next 10 years," Heavens said.

The numbers are based on reports from the Far Northeast Training Board.

Fuelling a mining ecosystem

The reports show the areas with the highest percentage of the workforce are in production, trades and sciences, which will be in high demand in the next decade.

Jennifer Abols, the executive director of Laurentian University's Goodman School of Mining, said schools communicate with employers about industry trends to keep up with the needs of modern mining operations.

"What we're seeing is that local employers are looking for graduates to fill positions in engineering, geology, trades, sustainability, logistics, surveying and finance," said Abols, who's also president of Laurentian's mining research arm, MIRARCO.

Today's mines are ecosystems in themselves, Abols said, requiring everything from manufacturers to nurses just to keep operations running. Environmental awareness is now a staple in the planning process for mines, she said, and so that has to be reflected in the training students receive.

Innovating and adapting

It will be difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, Abols said. The majority of training is being done online, with arrangements being made for safe in-person learning when needed.

In a way, Abols said, it mirrors a current industry trend of automated machinery, allowing workers to control mining equipment remotely from home. She said it addresses a mental-health stressor in many mining professions where workers must leave their communities for weeks at a time.

"If you're flying people out to remote communities, away from their families, to work in a mine, they will be better off if you can keep them in their community doing their jobs and getting paid to do their jobs," said Abols.

The pandemic is also highlighting a need for resiliency and adaptability in the workforce, Heavens said, which is further emphasized by a shift to virtual learning.

And with many mining operations looking to innovate by shifting from diesel-powered to electric-powered equipment, she said this is the time to encourage that mindset within mining schools.

"Embedding those types of opportunities and speaking to that directly within our training programs helps ensure our graduates are ready to deal with the times," Heavens said.