Skills gap becomes key challenge despite rising industry confidence

Automation remains a key focus area for organisations.

The dark days of mining’s downturn may be over but the industry’s leaders now have different challenges to grapple with, according to Newport Consulting.

Skills shortages and cost pressures, not unfamiliar issues for the industry, have re-emerged as the key ongoing concerns for mining leaders, Newport’s latest Mining Business Outlook Report revealed.

Despite these emerging challenges, the eighth report in Newport’s series outlines that sentiment in the mining industry is positive, with the number of miners showing cautious optimism increasing by 55 per cent since 2015.

In addition, the report found that almost three quarters of industry leaders are showing renewed confidence in the sector’s growth.

However, it looks as though skills shortages and cost pressures may be a threat to this growth in confidence continuing.

Newport consulting managing director David Hand believes a spate of mining companies are concerned that Australia will face a growing skills gap, particularly in the areas of technology and automation.

“We spoke to many companies of all sizes that voiced concern over a widening skills gap, giving way to a pressing need to upskill and re-train the workforce. Miners must be able to meet the new digital demands of Australia’s mining future,” Hand said.

With a growing gap in the number of technical employees trained to manage future autonomous roles, Hand added there were signs that mining was “getting on the front foot” to ensure its workforce remained agile and flexible.

“Rio Tinto is a prime example of a company leading the field in this area, having recently partnered with the WA Government and TAFE Australia to provide vocational training in robotics for mining workers. The government should follow Rio Tinto’s lead to close this growing skills gap, which is occurring because of technology disruption,” Hand said.

A key takeaway from the report was the push from mining leaders to embrace new technology, with automaton continuing to become vital for operations.

Automation and Big Data were the leading priorities, with 21 per cent of respondents believing automated haulage vehicles will be the top technology influence to impact the market this year.

Drones, which are used to map, survey and explore mines, were considered another key area for investment.

Meanwhile, more than half of mining leaders predicted an increase in commodity prices over the next 12 months. The exception, however, was thermal coal, which was forecast to face price challenges.

After spending more in 2016, many miners plan to continue this trend, with 42 per cent expecting to moderately increase investment in 2017-2018.

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