As mining moves into the future a number of changes are on the horizon. Not least is the Smart Mine, a mine running on the Internet of Things where everything, from the pit vehicles to the ore trains to the processing plant are run autonomously from a remote control centre. That's one significant change.
Members of the mining workforce previously employed in roles that are now automated will either have to leave the industry and find employment elsewhere or be prepared to learn new skill sets that allow them to take advantage of the new growth areas in the mining industry.
Foremost amongst those growth areas are digital technology and IT. Automated devices, no matter how clever they are, currently still require a set of human eyes overseeing the process somewhere at some point.It's just that that somewhere will be remote from the device itself and will require a different set of skills whilst still retaining some of the knowledge of the front line operator.
These devices also produce a huge amount of data and experts note that many companies currently have limited capacity to use, let alone fully capitalise on this information.They don't have enough personnel with the required data science training and analytical skills.However, if they are to more effectively utilise the tide of digital information flowing in, companies need to find people with these skill sets. This means either retraining current employees or employing new people.Alternatively they may consider partnering with 3rd parties like universities who are interested in furthering the technology involved or outsourcing their analytical functions to shared service centres or contractors who do have this expertise.
Outsourcing Analytical And Back Office Functions In The Mining Industry
Whilst the big operators, the Rio Tintos and the BHP Billitons of the world, can afford to install and fund their own operations centres, many smaller mining companies can't. Furthermore, given the way the mining industry booms and busts cyclically, investing in Smart Mine technology may well be an expensive and long term investment small miners are reluctant to make. Could this encourage the total outsourcing of related back office and analytical functions to contractors and shared service centres? We're already seeing this happening more and more in other industries where activities previously performed by in-house IT, HR, procurement and finance divisions are now outsourced. The advantages are many, not the least of which is cost savings. For miners it would also remove the need to employ people in-house with the analytical and data science training required to comprehensively interpret and apply the digital information coming in.
Environmental Responsibility And The Role Of The Mining Executive
The Smart Mine however is not the only significant change looming on the horizon of the mining industry, affecting the roles, and training, of mining professionals.Environmental considerations are now a major player in the industry with regulations and restrictions increasing. Where once a company could start digging a hole in the ground or set up exploration drilling programs in sensitive environmental areas with a fair degree of impunity, this is no longer the case. The global population is now acutely aware of environmental issues and more prepared than ever before to take a stand in protecting the environment. Their concerns in many instances are backed up by cold hard evidence, and by governments.We know that hundreds of species of plants, animals, birds and insects are now extinct, many at the hands of humans. We also know this list is unfortunately growing at an alarming rate. Farsighted governments have responded to the scientific evidence and the concerns of their citizens by implementing legislation designed to protect the environment.The result is increasing restrictions around future, and current, mining and exploration activities.
Linked to this is the fact that viable new surface ore bodies are becoming scarcer and harder to find so mines are getting deeper or moving underground. Deeper open pit mines need correspondingly larger surface areas to ensure pit wall stability, which in turn means disturbing more of the surrounding environment. Monitoring this and complying with relevant environmental protection laws is now a major part of the mine planning process. Mining professionals, particularly those in middle and upper management involved in planning, designing and implementing mining and exploration projects, must stay on top of this legislation. They must not only ensure compliance but also know how to comply.
People Skills And Dealing With Local Communities
Mining gets a bad rap in many communities.Local communities are increasingly demanding more transparency around mining activities that affect them and these communities have the potential to disrupt mining activities if their demands are not met. Therefore, the role of the mining professional of necessity must also incorporate a certain amount of public and community interaction aimed at providing this transparency and improving relations between mining and exploration activities, and local communities. In other words, mining professionals increasingly need people skills in a way they've probably not needed them in the past!
Occupational Health And Safety Matters For The Modern Mining Executive
Yet another challenge facing the modern mining executive is stricter occupational health and safety responsibilities and risk management. Whilst these have always been high priorities in the industry, today we have the heavy involvement of governments and regulatory bodies like WorkSafe and other programs. Many countries today have strict reporting requirements and very specific laws in place around OHS obligations. Failure to comply carries heavy penalties, including the risk of having an entire site shut down. Mining company management teams must be fully cognizant of their OH & S responsibilities. It's no longer enough to rely on the HR or legal department to 'know their stuff' and warn of impending violations. Every member of the management team, and beyond, needs to be up to speed on his or her responsibilities in this area. To sum up, the role of management in the mining industry is changing significantly and those seeking a career, or who want to remain employable in this industry need to be flexible enough to accept those changes. Upper management will need to become more technologically literate in order to understand the technological transformations happening in their departments. It won't always be easy and may even require retraining but this isn't unique to mining. Most industries are going through similar processes and as with most things, those who adapt survive.