“Over the decades we have faced the boom and the bust periods in the industry. I find it really interesting how people get caught by surprise each time a boom or a bust occurs. It has always been the same, it is inherent to this industry on which we so much depend on,” argues a senior government official in the Yukon.
Local governments, as well as the mining workforce benefiting from the boom period, should be better prepared for bust times.
These preparations should include attempts to diversify economic practices. Jerry, a diamond driller who also works in carpentry, explains how this could happen on the individual scale, “I try to diversify my skills as much as possible. In carpentry, I am my own boss. I can stop anytime when I get a decent job in a mine somewhere. And if they lay me off, I go back to my own business.”
There are high turnover rates in current mining economies. Mobile workers go from one mine to the next with the hope of finding a more secure position.
Apart from mines, the government is usually a big employer in locations like the Yukon or other remote regions. Service and entertainment sectors, like tourism, may offer jobs. This is often the case in larger towns, but in smaller villages the economy is not very diversified. Therefore, people may leave the region to find jobs in another locale.
We heard during our research that this was the case after the Keno Hill mine in Elsa and the mine in Faro, both in the Yukon, shut down in the late 1980s and in the 1990s, respectively. Lisa, who comes from a mining family and lives in Mayo, mused, “We lost a whole town, not many families from Elsa moved down to the village of Mayo. Many of them just left the territory. There were no jobs for them anymore and it was impossible to say when such a high demand of mine workers will occur again."
Being dependant on the mining industry creates vulnerable economic conditions for communities.
It means that workers are dependent on company politics or price developments on the global mineral market. First Nations people living in mining-dependent communities face the difficult choice of moving away from family and their culture, or remaining in an economically vulnerable situation.
A First Nation representative explains, “We aim for diversification of our livelihoods and economy. Agriculture, including greenhouse activities, are essential for our food security in the future and can give jobs to our people. Tourism is not very labour intensive around here, there are few restaurants and hotels, but the tourists come with their own trailer and their own food. Some changes in this sector need to occur to make tourism more profitable on a local scale.”
A continuous career until retirement is not very prevalent in the contemporary mining sector. But qualified people can use their skills in mines elsewhere in the country or abroad.
This option, however, requires FIFO livelihoods with longer travel time and different (potentially longer) rosters. Jess, a geologist, explains, “I just cannot sit at home and wait for the boom. I go to other places, the travel might be a bit longer, but I can use my skills everywhere.” She continues, “Sitting on $300,000 mortgage can be a real problem when you are not flexible and skilled only for working in mining.”
Learning how to deal with an unstable salary and uncertainties about the length of your job contract is key to coping with today´s conditions in the mining industry. It is of paramount importance to be flexible in terms of skills, further your training and be prepared to be mobile in times of busts.
For some people it is not desirable to migrate in order to get a job elsewhere. Therefore, not only local economic diversification is necessary for communities, but responsible planning is needed by mining companies – who should avoid the abrupt shut-downs of mining operations that have occurred so often in the past.
I am definitely prepared for the next down-turn. You know, I can show up tomorrow morning and get a lay-off notice. This is how it is today, this is the nature of the industry. Jason
You need an exit strategy, maybe I will be going to BC, Ontario, Fort McMurray or even Alaska. I hope there will be jobs these days. Francis
Get into another trade to support yourself, do training courses, longer ones or day-courses. Just diversify your skills. There are plenty of opportunities out there. Ronnie.
Nowadays you have to be adaptable, you have to do something no matter what. Those lifelong mines that went 25, 30 years, they are no longer around. Chris
My other job was perfect, it was 23 days in and 19 out. And a decent salary, so it was great. I flew to Cuba, or wherever with last minute deals, right? But it´s so slow these last two years. In my camp of 250 people, they just laid everybody off. Michelle
That downturn leaves a bunch of people going from pay-check to pay-check. Just struggling with their income. I think when we focus purely on mining then we end up with a kind of economy which is not diversified and this is tough for people. Carry