A new kind of miner emerges

The mining workplace is rapidly transforming as companies re-envision talent management in the digital age, according to Deloitte’s 2018 Tracking the Trends report.

As the digital mine becomes a reality, the nature of work is poised to change dramatically, at both the mine and in the back office, Deloitte’s third trend, The future of work, explains.

In Australia, this process is well advanced for the leading miners and is set to become increasingly apparent for mid-tier and junior miners in the coming years.

The Pilbara iron ore miners, for example, have long-established remote operations centres in Perth controlling haul trucks, surface drills and other equipment from thousands of kilometres away.

Deloitte Australia national mining leader Ian Sanders said the location of work had become increasingly important, and something that had been facilitated by the development of these operations centres.

“That’s a change from where we worked and the way we worked. It’s obviously because we have become much more digital,” Sanders told Australian Mining.

“(The transformation) is designed so the worker of the future is more based on an insights driven organisation, rather than one that reacts to things as and when they occur on a mine site.”

For the major miners, remote operating centres have helped them reduce costs, increase productivity and improve safety at their operations.

However, Sanders pointed out another workforce demand that emerged due to the data and information being created by remote operations centres.

“Do we have the skills within our workforce to actually leverage those insights rather than be reactive to events and occurrences?” Sanders questioned.

He said this meant plenty of re-thinking for human resources divisions at mining companies, as well as for the training, education and recruitment agencies that supported the industry.

Companies need to realise that they will not be able to recreate previous career paths as mining heads into the future, Sanders explained, adding that job descriptions and the skills required in the industry had changed.

“First of all, they need a different type of person with a different mindset to what we have today,” Sanders said. “Having a technological background, understanding data, how to read data and how to act on data is important within the business.

“STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects have become much more important for training and education organisations. There is a lot of discussion about that, which is good, but there needs to be more.”

Sanders also believes that mining companies are focusing on sourcing candidates that are ready-made to contribute in these areas.

“The type of experience that students are getting at university while they are learning is becoming even more important than what it was,” Sanders said.

“This is so they hit the ground running and actually engage in a conversation that is going to change the mindset or change the operation as soon as they arrive.”

Manufacturing is often an industry that mining is urged to learn from when it comes to adapting to changes that automation and technology have forced on workforces.

It has been several decades since manufacturing embarked on this movement, and one that has gradually taken hold of the industry in the time since.

Sanders agrees that mining can view manufacturing as the industry standard from which it can learn from. However, he also believes that the transition in mining is on track to be much more rapid given where the industry is already at.

“I can remember 25 years ago walking through a manufacturing plant and it was all about the people and how they connected with one another,” Sanders said.

“The last time I went through a manufacturing plant I struggled to find any people with the exception of them in the remote operating centre, or where there was something that a robot wasn’t able to fix.

“That was a transition of 20-odd years, but I think mining is going to want to do that transition within five years, if not sooner, and they will be able to leverage the learning from the likes of manufacturers and other major industries.”

The result of this transition, Sanders added, did not always mean the loss of jobs, but instead a changing type of employment, with new opportunities expected to be created as the workplace transformation continues.

As Deloitte explains, this is all part of the emergence of “a new kind of miner.”

Deloitte’s leading strategies for ‘The future of work’ include:

  • Retrain and upskill: Gaps in employee digital knowledge are undermining technology transformation efforts, according to Deloitte. It is imperative for mining companies to compare their current talent pipeline against skillsets they anticipate needing and hiring and retraining to the identified gaps.
  • Adopt new attraction and retention strategies. For digital talent, miners should place greater emphasis on nurturing and developing their people, creating interesting and purposeful work, and building an environment with career flexibility and tools that enable employees to collaborate and exchange ideas transparently.
  • Source and integrate talent across networks. There is a growing need for miners to partner with organisations that have deep technology expertise. Companies will need to design and evolve their partnership networks to access the best talent for specific work and cultivate talent sources, according to Deloitte.
  • Redesign work for technology and learning. Companies must move beyond process optimisation to find ways to enhance machine-human collaboration. This includes identifying areas where digital technology can augment worker performance as employees shift to more productive work.
  • Create a new social contract with communities and governments. To prevent potential backlash, Deloitte believes it is important for mining companies to work with key stakeholders to develop a shared vision for the future of work.

This article also appears in the May edition of Australian Mining.