Do Many Mining Companies Have Too Restrictive A TPTP?

Could thinking outside the 'traditional square' when it comes to considering the talent pool for mining professional hires help ease the skills shortage?

It's referred to as the TPTP or total potential talent pool and for many mining companies their TPTP is quite constrained. However, in this seller's market and with shortages looming, is it time to revisit some of the boundaries that companies set around the types of professionals they're prepared to hire?

Typically a company will have a very specific idea of the type of professionals they're looking to hire and can be quite inflexible about considering anyone who falls outside these parameters*. For instance potential hires may have to be within a certain age range (which may be quite narrow). They may have to hold a particular degree, or set of degrees. They may be required to have very specific skill sets and experience, such as experience with a particular type of mining software, or a certain commodity, or x number of years underground / mining experience (as opposed to open cut or exploration experience). There may also be (unintentional) gender bias and so on. Obviously the more of these parameters there are, the smaller the TPTP gets and the harder it becomes to find what they're looking for. This may not be such an issue when qualified candidates are thick on the ground but at times like we're seeing currently, when talent is scarce, these types of restrictive criteria can make it almost impossible to find anyone 'suitable'.

But what if…..

What if a company was to loosen its age criteria and consider people with the required skills and training who are older, or younger, than the perceived 'ideal' age range? Even if there are new things they'll need to learn, we've mentioned the 'amazing' ability of older people to learn new skills if allowed to do the learning at their own pace in a previous article. Furthermore, given the generally shortish nature of mining booms, chances are that by the time this boom is over, older employees will be happy to take a redundancy package and retire. Younger employees on the other hand will not be quite so happy with that arrangement!

Or perhaps a company could consider candidates with similar degrees who have the desire and ability to transfer skill sets and embrace new experiences! After all, that's what many mining professionals retrenched in other downturns have had to do, albeit in the opposite direction. They've been able to utilize their training and experience to launch new careers in other industries. Shouldn't this send a clear message to mining companies that skilled mining professionals are more than capable of taking on new skills and embracing new experiences?

Experience Is The Best Teacher

Traditionally mining companies also tend to look for people with specific types of experience. When it's a buyers market that's a fair policy. However, we're very much looking at a seller's market at the moment and any buyer who tries to cast their net too shallow is bound to come up empty nearly every time. So instead of looking for just one type of increasingly rare species perhaps companies should be casting their net a bit wider to pick up similar, perhaps not quite so rare species with a view to re-purposing them! In other words, considering professionals with the same qualifications but different skill sets / experience and allowing them to develop the preferred skill sets is also an option. Someone experienced in a particular mining software package for example can just as easily learn another one!

When A Mining Engineer Is Not The 'Right' Mining Engineer

Mining engineers and geologists with open cut experience vs mining engineers and geologists with underground experience is one example where very narrow TPTPs specifying one or the other with no room for flexibility could be excluding some very talented professionals with the capacity to learn new skills. Combine this with an expectation that candidates must have between x and y number of years experience in that particular environment and the TPTP is narrowed down even further.

According to one mining recruitment agency, there are mining engineers around with open pit experience currently looking for work but companies want mining engineers who have worked on underground operations**. At the end of the day though a qualified mining engineer is a qualified mining engineer. When current open pit or underground specialists graduated, they all would have graduated with the same basic training. Where they've ended up since is the sum of their experiences since graduating and many of these people are smart enough, and experienced enough, to be able to successfully take on new challenges and take their career in a new direction. Like moving from an open pit to an underground operation. It's the same with geologists – a company looking for a geologist with mining or underground experience is typically reluctant to take on a geologist who has been working in exploration or open pits.

Are Senior Managers In The Mining Industry Too 'Young' For The Job?

A report compiled by the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy presents an interesting theory on why such narrow TPTPs are found in the mining industry. There is a suggestion that the habit of promoting young(ish) people to reasonably senior roles within the industry, whilst clearly a reflection of their technical skills and professional aptitude, doesn't necessarily mean they have the 'people' skills and broader 'life experience' that generally comes with longevity, and age! Which in turn could mean that if they're tasked with the responsibility of making hiring decisions they may not have the HR experience to understand that people from demographics outside their own perception of what it takes to 'do the job' could in fact be quite capable of 'doing the job'. Additionally sticking to a traditionally narrow TPTP means they're not going out on a limb by hiring someone who doesn't tick all the right boxes within that TPTP. Certainly food for thought!

As is the idea that mining companies who are prepared to broaden the scope of what they're looking for in new hires and provide them with opportunities to build on the skill sets and experience they already have, may weather the talent shortage better.

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Tuesday, 20 April 2021
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