The rise of flexible working environments

Fortescue's Integrated Operations Centre. Image: Fortescue Metals Group.

Mining is considered a sector that is driving the emergence of the fourth industrial revolution where new technologies are reshaping the industry.

Technologies like autonomous vehicles and company-wide management systems have formed the basis of the industry’s move in this direction over recent years.

A by-product of these developments is their impact on how we work, including changes such as more personnel working at remote operating centres instead of at mine sites.

The emerging revolution has also led to the introduction of more flexibility to working environments in the mining industry, a development that is tipped to be a key part of the unfolding industrial era.

According to a survey released by recruiters Hays this week, 89 per cent of employers believe flexible working options are very important or important when it comes to staff attraction and retention.

Of the professionals surveyed, 33 per cent responded that flexible working options were critical to them remaining in employment. A further 63 per cent said they were ‘nice to have’, while just 4 per cent responded that flexible work was not important to them.

“The emerging technologies of the fourth industrial revolution have made flexible working arrangements more accessible and transparent, which people are aware of. For this reason, it’s also becoming more important to staff attraction and retention,” Hays managing director in Australia & New Zealand Nick Deligiannis said.

“There are many reasons why people may require flexible working options, including living further from CBDs to access affordable housing, balancing ongoing caring responsibilities, ramping back up after parental leave or throttling back from full time work toward retirement.”

Mining has been at the forefront of the flexible working movement. As part of BHP’s goal to achieve gender balance, its chief executive Andrew Mackenzie recommended four priorities to help it achieve this target, one being to embed flexible working.

Other leading mining employers in Australia, including Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group, also talk up their flexible working arrangements as key benefits for prospective employees.

Flexible working environments are often viewed as an expectation of Millennials, something that is reflected in the Hays report.

However, Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) director, industry services, Tara Diamond pointed out earlier this year that flexibility was highly valued and sought after by workers of all ages.

“Individuals are demanding greater choice and flexibility in the world of work and it’s important that any policy response from government encourages and facilitates this,” Diamond said.

The AMMA backs the introduction of more flexible working in mining. It released a report arguing that technological advancements will require the resources industry to modernise to meet the needs of modern Australians.

Work is no longer built around fixed hours and fixed work locations, and has as its value proposition greater flexibility, convenience and freedom of choice for the individual, the report said.

Deloitte, in its 2018 Tracking the Trends report, also viewed flexible working environments as a way mining companies can break down innovation barriers to deliver additional productivity gains in the coming years. The report also advises that building a working environment with flexibility will help organisations attract and retain employees.

The way mining employees work is changing and flexibility is already shaping that future.