Rio Tinto initiative to focus on developing digital skills

Image: Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto is set to work with leaders in Australia’s education and innovation sectors in a new, disruptive approach designed to tackle a looming skills gap in the nation’s future workforce.

The company will invest $10 million in a four-year national program targeted at school-age learners that aims to fast-track the development of skills needed for the digital future, including critical thinking, problem-solving, automation, systems design, and data analytics.

Rio Tinto’s Centre for Mine Automations was launched today at the University of Sydney. Developed in partnership with leading startup accelerator BlueChilli and Amazon Web Services, the program will crowd-source and fund ideas from start-ups and schools.

Designed to prepare young Australians for work of the future, the initial phase of the program will identify existing EdTech project aimed at enhancing future skills, that can be scaled-up quickly for the use of students, teachers and parents.

Burning Glass, an employment analytics firm, has revealed there is a shortage of transferable, broad-based Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills, such as systems analysis and programming, and broader expertise, such as communication and problem solving, needed for the digital revolution.

An advisory board of Australian education, innovation and business leaders, to be announced early next year, will guide the accelerator program and recommend future areas for investment.

In 2020, startups selected for the program will each receive a grant from Rio Tinto, as well as training and mentoring from experienced entrepreneurs.

The initiative complements the $14 million Rio Tinto already invests in education programmes each year with universities, schools, governments and the not-for-profit sector to help meet growing demand for new and emerging skills.

The existing investment includes a partnership with the West Australian Government and TAFE to develop the first nationally recognised qualifications in automation.

Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques said the new program would take a “bold and disruptive approach to identifying solutions” that would help “equip young people with the knowledge and skills for a changing world”.

“Rapid technological change is transforming our lives, and the pace of change is only increasing, challenging our ability to attract, develop and retain the talent needed to run our operations of the future,” Jacques said.

BlueChilli CEO and Founder Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin said its mission was to help “people solve the world’s biggest challenges with technology and ensuring the next generation of Australians have the skills to succeed in a tech-driven world is critical”.

Amazon Web Services Head of Resource Industries for Australia and New Zealand Sarah Bassett said they were also committed to helping Australians develop their skills.

“We are delighted to work with Rio Tinto and BlueChilli, as well as some of the most innovative startups, to help enable their ideas through technology,” she said.

University of Sydney Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Duncan Ivison was looking forward to continuing its decade long partnership with Rio Tinto.

“Programs like these are particularly important when you consider the automation of routine tasks will increase demand for higher order skills such as critical thinking and analysis.

“We need to prepare young people for these changes and at a minimum ensure that with increasing digitisation of the workplace there is basic digital literacy across all workers,” Ivison said.

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