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Framing Mining’s Future of Work and Community Resilience

11 August 2021

Much of the discussion of the future of work in mining centres on the coming technological advances and the ’reskilling revolution’ needed to transition the current workforce. But the skills challenge is not just about technology. It’s about those cognitive, intrinsically human skills required for the future of work. These are also the skills critical for mining to be able to secure and maintain societal acceptance in a technology-enabled era.

  • Technology adoption will reflect suitability of existing skillsets: The rollout of advanced technologies will continue, as it has begun, to be predominantly in regions with workforces that are already equipped with the necessary baseline skillsets and where skills gaps are relatively easily addressed. Elsewhere, operations will remain labour intensive in the near- and medium-terms.
  • Re-skilling will occur more than layoffs at a pace determined by companies: The future of work does not imply massive layoffs for mining and metals. Most jobs will become more technologically enabled and workers will be trained on-the-job. The pace of technology adoption may be slower than predicted, determined by company executives who will weigh up the benefits against the social implications of reduced labour needs for some activities.
  • Technical skills are not the issue: Technology will bring reskilling challenges, but they are not too complex, and the industry is well prepared to meet them with established processes for training, re-skilling, redeploying and recruitment.
  • The gap is in cognitive skills: As with all sectors, there will be a marked increase in the demand for cognitive skillsets that are distinctly human. These are skillsets seen as both essential for mining to be able to address increasing social demands and expectations, and where human resources professionals in mining and across sectors see gaps in existing workforce skillsets.
  • Non-mining workforce will be most impacted: While mining’s social value proposition is that it can leave communities better off, the future of work may disproportionately impact the non-mining workforce and have a negative effect on community resilience. Small shifts in the number or types of jobs required at mine sites can have outsized implications. Less direct economic benefit implies a decline of the industry’s value to these communities.
  • It will be different for every site: Companies will have to consider how to balance competing demands: up- and re-skilling labour forces based on endemic capacities; modernising operations considering return on investment versus the social (and potential disruption and reputation) implications; ability to attract more diverse talent; and a host of other requirements. It will be different for every site based on the host country, the relative baselines of host communities, the proximity of populations and their communities’ desires to work with and in mines.