Mining for talent

The mining sector is undergoing significant changes in the way it operates with new technologies and urgent people management overhauls at the heart of it.

Mining industry truck
Relocate Magazine Autumn Issue 2018
This article is taken from the latest issue of Relocate magazine, sponsored by AKA.
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For the world’s top 40 mining companies, 2017 was a good year. PwC’s report Mine: Tempting Times reveals commodity prices steadily recovering and revenue gains throughout 2018 but firms are proceeding with caution – reinventing their HR operating models to minimise risk.“The mining sector is becoming more and more complex. As a result, leaders in these businesses have to be capable across an ever increasing group of risks and opportunities.The importance of mining companies in their communities, the sustainability of their operations, rapid changes in demand for emerging commodities and the deployment of disrupting technologies continues to challenge organisational capabilities,” explains Trevor Hart, global mining leader at KPMG. “Leading companies are identifying with a clear strategy for their business and placing people at its core.”
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To assess which commodities to invest in, and which to divest, miners now more than ever need to keep their fingers on the pulse of fluctuating consumer demands and the emergence of new technologies, such as electric vehicles. Many companies are now seeking later-stage commodities, extracting tech-related metals and boutique minerals like lithium and graphite instead of coal.In order to stay competitive, firms are having to track and capitalise on trends led by the start-up community. To seize timely opportunities, they must be able to move, separate and integrate, forcing companies to run more agile operations.

Building global networks

Just this spring, Anglo-Australian mining group Rio Tinto announced plans that it would be moving its UK support staff to one of its three new global hubs to improve synergy. It will also build a commercial and marketing hub in Singapore. The news comes close after its huge investment in cloud operations to empower 55,000 of its global employees with highly secure mobile access to business information.“As mining companies do more and more business across different countries, they need the ability to move their talent around quicker, easier and more cost-effectively. They also need leaders and employees with global experience to help manage and run their broad, geographic operations,” adds Malebogo Mpugwa, head of talent at Anglo American.Rio Tinto has gone full steam ahead with its intelligent mine strategy, where all its assets will be networked and its employees capable of making technology-enabled decisions in microseconds. Anglo American too, recently voiced its high-tech mobility plans to transform its underground mining activity and improve real-time responses to health and safety issues.

Disruptive technology

With new technologies such as VR and UAV, employees are now able to perform what were previously regarded as desk duties from any location. Last year, Anglo American’s Zibulo colliery in South Africa introduced outbye Wi-Fi infrastructure and smartphones to revolutionise their communication underground. Many of its frontline employees are now equipped with a unique smartphone designed to withstand harsh conditions. With specialised apps to make calls, send messages and photographs and share important policy and procedure documents on the go.“The whole move around digital and technology will continue to impact peoples’ roles. For example, mine management is now able to analyse real-time data through analytics based on operational data from technology that sits at the mine site and a refinery and is connected to the Internet of Things. Furthermore, interactive dashboards, mine managers and supervisors can now electronically interact with engineers with greater levels of precision. By optimising mine plans in real-time, the whole nature of work and scheduling will change. This is an industry that is completely in disruption in every area of its business. It is also one in which there are critical skills shortages. Not just in skillsets required in the future – but even now,” adds Phil Hopwood, global mining and metals leader at Deloitte.

In search of talent

HR issues have been hailed as the single biggest obstacle to mining competitiveness by the Mining Industries Human Resources Council (MIHR). According to MIHR, it’s not only a vast technology update that will invigorate the sector but the combined development and retention of talent.As the digital mine becomes a reality and processes are augmented by robotic process automation, mining companies will require access to a broader array of systems experts and data analysts.After years of unprecedented layoffs in the industry, the MIHR argues key mining regions will need effective mobility programmes and innovative talent management solutions. With the hunt for scarce digital talent and mining firms competing against more attractive industries, companies may have to redefine roles, change the corporate culture and attract and train talent in new ways.One case in point is Canada. In MIHR’s 2017 survey, it shows Canada’s ageing population will have a significant impact on the mining sector. With older workers surging from 11% in 2007 to 16% in 2016 and the younger workforce dropping from 13% to 5% in the same period. In addition, 54% of participants stated they were unaware of mining as a career option until well after their post-secondary education.In answer to this, the Canadian government has launched a $7.8 million initiative with MIHR to launch 850 work integrated learning programmes and several virtual career fairs that will begin late September to bring global job seekers, talent agencies and mining companies together to boost talent as part of its wider $73 million STEM Student Work Placements Program.

Global leaders wanted

“Skillset shortages are one of the top risks for the mining sector globally. This risk is greater than ever before within all key mining locations, such as Canada, Australia, South Africa and South America – who all face a demand versus supply issue,” says Ms Mpugwa. “During the downturn, redundancies across the mining industry has driven some colleagues into other industries and the challenge is to entice them back, given the growth in the mining industry.”Leadership capability is another area where the sector has been suffering, notes Ms Mpugwa. “We have to nurture talent as there is limited capability among managers and leaders to respond to a changing environment and deal with future complex and unprecedented challenges. There continues to be an increasing mismatch between the available labour pool and the skills and competencies required. This is a growing concern – especially in African markets.”Targeted recruitment as well as upskilling the existing workforce is part of the solution, she adds. But first, the global mining sector will need to revamp its image.“I attended an Australian mining forum in Queensland recently where people were saying that they are not seeing mining engineers coming through universities to replace the ones who are retiring. The numbers being talked about were frankly, scary. There were suggestions being put forward that only one tenth of the engineers needed in Australia are graduating,” says Mr Hopwood.“This issue is partly linked to the image of mining. How does the industry attract the talent it needs? One of the ways is through embracing diversity and inclusion,” he adds. “BHP Billiton recently stated its objective to have a 50% female workforce by 2025. This is a topic that is getting a lot of traction and we expect to see it become more of a topic for discussion going forward.”
Relocate Magazine Autumn Issue 2018
This article first appeared in the autumn 2018 issue of Relocate magazine.

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