I attended the annual conference of the Society of Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME) in Denver, Colorado this past February. At the opening, speakers talk about how the mining industry needs to work harder to recruit and retain the next generation of talent because advanced technology can only get the industry so far. This is something we know is true not just for the U.S., but also for the mining industry worldwide.
Interestingly, I came across an article, Mining industry to solve lack of skilled workers with technology: study, that explained that 130 C-level and senior financial executives at resource companies in the U.S., South Africa, the U.K., Australia and Canada participated in a study that asked them what their main concerns were and how they thought those concerns could be resolved.
The study reported that a whopping 50% of the executives surveyed admitted that they plan to substitute labor with technology. What’s more, 30% of them believed technology would have a positive impact on their business and improving profitability in 2013, revealed the survey.
The articles quotes Charles Dewhurst of the natural resources industry group at BDO, who said, “With advancements in technology — from new software that makes prospecting easier, to advancements in mineral transportation — the industry is at a critical juncture. Technology, and the individuals who are skilled in developing and utilizing these tools, is now more important than ever as demands for greater returns and increased productivity are forcing the industry to innovate.”
I agree with this article, that technology will be at the center of the solution for the many issues the mining industry is facing. That is why it is critical that mining companies partner with suppliers that are innovators. These suppliers provide the technologies that can have meaningful impact with the issues they face such as reliability and process optimization that can improve recovery rates.
But I also think that technology will be an enabler, but it will require a cultural change. Mining companies will have to behave more as entrepreneurial companies. This is because mining companies have a limited number of people and therefore would have to evaluate and adopt technology faster in order to have a meaningful impact in their businesses. They would need to embrace creative thinking that is exciting and meaningful for the new generation of workers.
This includes embracing a culture in which everyone contributes and challenges traditional assumptions, where ideas are constantly harvested and tried, and where failure is allowed and continuous learning is required. With the goal of creating a culture in which diversity is valued and change is embraced, a true culture of innovation will attract talented professionals.
I can just dream of the day when we see new mining companies as the next Google or the next Apple, where big technology developments occur and everyone desires to work for them.