Throughout the world, mining companies are battling a range of forces that are reshaping the sector and require a new approach to management.
Fluctuating demand and commodity prices, heightened stakeholder expectations, and the ongoing need to maximise productivity and profitability mean companies are faced with some difficult decisions.
There are also significant challenges when it comes to human resources. People strategies figure heavily in this landscape, as workforces become increasingly specialised and feel the pressures of global human capital trends. As a result, there is a heavy responsibility on HR professionals. They are tasked with developing strategies that ensure companies retain the talent they require while also recognising the realities of shifting market conditions.
“The most effective HR leaders in the mining Industry are those who balance the need for labour force specialisation and elasticity with the constant drive toward increased productivity and innovation,” says John F Hansen, Oracle’s vice president for Human Capital Management in JAPAC.
It’s clear that the HR strategy for a mining company must reflect the future landscape of the industry, and an increasingly important factor is automation. During the next few years, increasingly intelligent machines will redefine the need for human intervention.
This trend is seen as both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing for those who focus on the potential improvement it will offer when it comes to the mental and physical health status of the workforce. It will allow labour to shift from dull, dangerous and dirty tasks to supervising such machines and processes from an office.
On the other hand it is seen as a curse for those who now contemplate an uncertain career where men and women are replaced by machines.
“[Mining automation] is far more than advancement of the enabling technologies or availability of automation solutions in the marketplace,” says Mehran Motamed, chief executive officer of RIGID ROBOTICS. “For mining companies, it is an organisational change with people at its core.”
Selling an uncertain career
The overall contraction of the mining industry has been reducing employment demand for some years. Employment contracted by seven per cent in 2014-154 and this decline was observed across most functions of the sector.
“Motivating graduates to undertake geoscience degrees in an industry where long-term employment is becoming questionable may be a hard challenge for a mining HR manager to face,” says Eric Anderson, Oracle HCM Mining Solutions Perth.
“Certainly the challenge is on for talent acquisition leaders in the mining and exploration industries who may have to look to the Gig economy for solutions on contracting talent,” says Mark Wadsley, HR Practice APAC Oracle.
Tackling mental health issues
Another issue for HR professionals is staff mental health. The Australian mining industry provides employment for more than 170,000 people1 and, while the industry presents attractive financial incentives, the work is most often carried out in remote locations, and is both time-intensive and physically challenging. This environment has led to a particularly high prevalence of mental health issues.
“More than one in five Australian mining industry workers has experienced mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety in the past 12 months,” says beyondblue Chairman Jeff Kennett. “But sadly, too many workplaces still do not realise the importance of their employees’ mental health.”2
According to research undertaken by PricewaterhouseCoopers in conjunction with beyondblue, these mental health conditions may manifest themselves as absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims.3
Of the various strategies that can be adopted to address both these issues, there are a range of actions that can be supported by the latest generation of HCM technology. Examples include the introduction of worksite physical activity programs, and coaching and mentoring programs used to create a deeper connection between workers. This, in turn, can help to address the effects of isolation, stress, long hours and the general impacts of a Fly-in Fly-out (FiFo) work structure.
To support this process, Oracle has introduced a new class of HR solutions. Called Work/Life Applications, they provide tools to manage physical and mental well-being, as well as the social connections and activities of the workforce.
“These solutions can be used to help employees manage the intersection of their work and personal lives,” says Oracle’s John F Hansen.
The good news is that investments in workplace mental health programs will not only produce a more engaged, productive workforce (the foundations of innovation), but the return on investment for these programs in the mining industry is the highest across all industries. Research suggests an average return of $5.70 for every $1.00 invested3.
Mark Wadsley is senior director, HCM Transformation, and John Hansen is vice president, HCM Product Management, Japan and Asia Pacific, Oracle.