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Tech skills shortage an existential threat to the global mining industry

7th June 2023

By: Darren Parker

Creamer Media Contributing Editor Online

     

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A severe talent shortage is becoming a near existential challenge for mining companies globally, according to auditing firm PwC’s ‘Mine 2023: The era of reinvention’ report. 

In a presentation on the findings in the report on June 7, PwC Africa energy, utilities and resources partner Vuyiswa Khutlang said mining companies needed to attract more workers, particularly those with technological skills, to achieve their strategic objectives.  

Unfortunately, however, many potential skilled workers do not see the industry as attractive.  

She said the top 40 mining companies surveyed needed to rethink their workforce strategies to appeal to a wider group of employees. 

According to the report, attracting the industry’s next generation of talent requires a focus on the industry’s “skills of the future”, which are in artificial intelligence, robotics, automation and data analytics.

In a survey by the Mining Industry Human Resources Council of Canada, 70% of 15- to 30-year-olds said they would not consider a career in mining – the highest proportion of all industries. 

PwC’s Mine report showed that up to two-thirds of mining CEOs believed skill shortages would have either a large or a very large impact on profitability in the next ten years.  

According to a study from the World Economic Forum, 73% of mining companies see local skills gaps as the biggest barrier to adopting new technology, which would not replace the need for humans in mining but would lead to the industry becoming more transparent, with improved efficiencies, safety and carbon footprints.  

For example, the number of autonomous haul trucks in operation globally grew by 39% in the year to May 2022, from 769 to 1 068.  

“To meet the demand for these skill sets, leaders must look beyond the traditional mining talent pool and retrain existing workers,” Khutlang noted. 

With regard to targeting technology skills, the PwC report says that attracting the talent needed at tech-enabled mining sites will require several new approaches. 

First, there will be a need to invest in education at both an on-site and community level to attract and retain talent who can be trained, reskilled or transferred. 

Second, mining companies should collaborate more with governments, industry and peers on policy advocacy for issues such as the migration of skilled workers and support for remote mining communities to attract talent and fulfill workforce requirements. 

Third, investment in communications is key to highlighting the industry’s role in the energy transition and its use of technology to change the way miners mine, which could help address the perception of mining as environmentally harmful, physically demanding, hazardous and remote. 

“As it is, though, some workers lack confidence that even their current employers are training them in the use of technology,” Khutlang said.  

In PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey of 2022, 38% of workers at metals and mining companies said they were concerned about not getting sufficient training in digital and technology skills from their employer. 

In addition to pushing technology skills development, the Mine report says it is important for the mining industry to drive diversity, equity and inclusion. 

PwC says a diverse and inclusive culture is critical for attracting talent, as inclusive companies benefit from diversity of experience and diversity of thinking, which are two valuable qualities in an industry undergoing change.  

In the mining industry, however, the survey found that diversity is still lacking across a wide range of workforce characteristics.

Khutlang said it was necessary for mining companies to understand the state of diversity, equity and inclusion in their businesses by gathering data and creating transparency with stakeholders.  

“Embrace technology to remove barriers brought about by the remote location of many mine sites and allow a more accessible working environment,” she said. 

The PwC report recommends building a strategy that highlights diversity and inclusion as a priority and embeds it throughout the organisation.  

Moreover, effort should be made to generate buy-in from leaders throughout the business to ensure that the tone at the top is aligned with the stated purpose, Khutlang said. 

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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