Areas of technology investment in Australian mining. Image: Newport Consulting.
BY ELIZABETH FABRI
MINING companies are embracing the transition to the ‘digital mine’ by investing in new technologies, but falling short when it comes to preparing future workforces, Newport Consulting has found.
In its 2018 Mining Business Outlook, the operational management consultancy firm revealed strong signs of revival for the sector following a series of in-depth interviews with more than 50 mining leaders.
However it flagged an emerging skills gap confronting the industry as a result of the rise of automation and a ‘gig economy’ set to redefine roles and disrupt job security.
“We spoke to many companies of all sizes that voiced concern over a widening skills gap, giving way to a pressing need to upskill and re-train the workforce,” Newport Consulting managing director David Hand said.
“Miners must be able to meet the new digital demands of Australia’s mining future.”
Quoted in the report was Unearthed Solutions director Zane Prickett, who claimed Australian miners must be faster in adopting a forward-thinking approach.
“One key theme is that we’re going from a digital non-natives market to a digital natives market,” Mr Prickett said.
“I don’t want to downplay the past and the impressive human skill that has been involved in mining and highly technical engineering.
“However, the reality is that we’re now in a fully connected and digitally enabled world, which means our approach to work flows and how we build the mines of the future is fundamentally different.”
Mr Prickett said Australia was at the “tip of the iceberg” when it came to automation and urged miners to put together a plan on how to upskill, support and nurture future workers.
“The future will involve computers doing 90 per cent of the work and humans looking at design and processes,” he said.
“We haven’t reached a point yet where we are designing from a computer-first perspective.
“There’s still a lot of cultural change that will go on in the industry, and a huge opportunity to paint an exciting future.
“For miners, Australia can be the leading space to develop the scalable products and processes of the future.
“If Australia can push hard and train the next generation of engineers, miners and technologists, that’s a real global advantage.”
Some of Australia’s bigger miners were already leading the charge.
“Rio Tinto is a prime example of a company leading the field in this area, having recently partnered with the WA Government and TAFE Australia to provide vocational training in robotics for mining workers,” Mr Hand said.
“The government should follow Rio Tinto’s lead to close this growing skills gap, which is occurring because of technology disruption.”