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Digital digging – The future of work in the mining industry

Mining Risk Review 2017

Future of Work

By Ruchi Arora , Anne-Marie Jentsch , John Pymm and Ravin Jesuthasan | September 7, 2017

Technology is significantly changing the way mining companies work and will need to operate and the introduction of AI will undoubtedly impact how HR programmes are designed and implemented.

Introduction – the future of work is now!

Daimler’s first self-driving truck hit the road in 20151, driverless cars are being tested by car manufacturers and tech giants alike and the first autonomous ship is planned to set sail in Norway in 20182. Kiva robots speed around Amazon warehouses and the company’s checkout free grocery store made headlines earlier this year. IBM’s Watson currently offers 15 cognitive services such as virtual agents, language and visual recognition, personality characteristics prediction and advanced data analytics3.

Welcome to the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2017 refers to this advancement of technology as the Fourth Industrial Revolution and identifies 12 key emerging technologies and their impact on the global risk landscape4. It is accepted by all commentators that technology will change the future and with the pace of technology ever increasing, balancing the benefits of such technology against the risks will determine success.

Five forces impacting the future of work

HR leaders have recognized that this Fourth Industrial Revolution is fundamentally different from the previous three as the pace of change and its impact being much further reaching. CHREATE5, a consortium of more than 30 CHROs and other HR leaders, identified five forces of change that affect the future of talent management and HR:

  1. Exponential technology change. The rapid developments in artificial intelligence and automation impact the workforce and skills required, making many skills obsolete and/or creating new ones. Jobs are changing more quickly, and workers must be able to adapt to these business changes.
  2. A truly connected world. As the ability to connect with almost anyone, anywhere, at any time increases, the nature of work also shifts, impacting how work gets done and the nature of the employee/employer relationship.
  3. Human-automation collaboration. Jobs and tasks previously performed by humans are being replaced by automation, or require a human-automation interface. Businesses will require workers to adapt to this change to optimize work.
  4. All inclusive, global talent market. The potential workforce is growing, with increasing diversity and longevity of workers. As the nature of work changes, the potential talent market will expand with more flexible work relationships, ways of working, policies etc. to suit different talent needs.
  5. Social and organizational reconfiguration: The democratization of work is changing the nature of the employee/employer relationship. As work and work relationships become more flexible, traditional hierarchies and contracts are being replaced with collaboration and collective leadership.

Table 1: How technology transforms the extraction process

Phase What's changing? Case studies6
Exploration The processes of exploration is being modernised through the use of sensors, wireless communication and computers.
  • A major mining company uses drones to more closely monitor and evaluate the rock face at mines in real time when blasting away rock to build mine slopes.
Operation Extractive operations can be performed by computer operators who are hundreds or thousands of miles away, requiring a new set of skills to monitor and execute operations.
  • A global mining company has introduced automated drilling in Africa, with good acceptance by workers.
  • A gold miner is using smart sensors to ensure the safety and efficiency of workers and equipment.
  • Mining companies in Australia are providing field workers with smart baseball caps (known as SmartCaps) that monitor their brainwaves to measure fatigue.
  • In 2013, a global mining company opened an Integrated Remote Operations Centre (IROC) in Perth. The IROC provides the company with a real-time view of its entire Western Australia iron ore supply chain.
  • A global specialist energy management company’s Integrated Planning and Optimization Solution is designed to optimize supply chain efficiency for mining companies.
Processing Processing can employ technology that increases the efficiency and quality of the operations improving the refining process and quality of the material.
  • A world leading mining company deploys visual and heat sensors to scan the surface of molten metal in order to quickly assess steel quality, and automatically identify process adjustments to improve product quality.

New work in the mining industry

This revolution won’t pass by the natural resources and mining industries. Whilst change and innovation in the mining sector has been generally incremental in nature, a surge of cost pressures as a result of declining commodity prices and margins has demanded greater operational excellence, radically new approaches to work and continuous improvement through the introduction of new technologies.

Traditionally mining is a capital and labour intensive industry, however technology and innovation are transforming the world of work across all phases of the extraction process (see Table 1 above).

Strategic implications for the mining industry

An analysis by the World Economic Forum revealed that digitalization could bring:7

  • More than US$425 billion of value (equalling 3-4% of industry revenue) for the mining & metals industry, customers, society and environment over the next 10 years (to 2025)
  • A reduction of 610 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, with an estimated value to society and environment of US$30 billion
  • Improved safety, with around 1,000 lives saved and 44,000 injuries avoided
  • A potential loss of about 330,000 jobs, or nearly 5% of workforce, over the next decade

Faced with these economic and environmental challenges the industry has shown that it is able to think out of the box to redefine strategy and invent new business models:

  • Collaborating and connecting – New partnerships within and across industry as well as with research institutions and the public sector produce innovative opportunities for increased productivity and growth. Mining companies have also become more flexible by building networks of suppliers, partners and customers. Customer centricity is being adopted, for example through collaboration on developing advanced materials.
  • Operational excellence – mining companies optimize operations in terms of efficiency and quality, e.g. by using technology to operate less location-dependent operations and collaborate more across functions. Predictive data analytics help identify and monitor key performance indicators. Focus on safety, environmental concern and sustainable development actually create new business value and bring benefits for business and society. New technologies, such as collision detection and cybersecurity measures improve safety and security. Big data helps monitor environmental impacts and sustainability goal achievement.
  • Employee Value Proposition – CSR reduces energy and regulatory costs and enhances company and employer image. Even remote operations offer benefits in that vein: talent can be located where they want to live and where its best for them to share knowledge and it becomes easier for leadership to lead and oversee staff. Enabled by technology, employees and managers can make better informed decisions and find better solutions through broader collaboration.

How can HR contribute?

  1. Start at the top: work strategy and culture are pivotal. First of all, work strategy and culture guidelines need to be aligned with the new strategic direction. Many mining organizations have a people strategy that needs to be transformed into a work strategy that includes AI, robotics and alternative forms of labour. Collaboration across these work options can only be fostered in a company environment that supports open, seamless communication and mobility.
  2. Rethink how works gets done: assess the potential for automation of tasks and its consequences for the organization. Secondly, HR has to rethink how work gets done, how work is structured and what organisational structure best supports new ways of work. As jobs become more fluid in the mining sector, take the work to be done as the unit to be analysed instead of the job role. Deconstruct the work into discrete elements, and then decide which tasks are best done by whom and in what type of work setting.
  3. Decouple work from the organisation. In addition, think about who can best do a task – does it need to be a traditional employee or would a contingent worker offer benefits, e.g. in terms of flexibility of employment or specific expertise. Online talent platforms may make it easier to find and access freelancers/contractors. Companies can even start building internal talent markets to deploy talent inn a more flexible and efficient manner across the organisation.
  4. Identify the skills of the future – and structurally start building them. New ways of working in the evolving and changing mining world require new skills or even different types of traits and attitudes. Most important will be for every worker to be adaptable, flexible, and willing to continuously learn, upskill or even reskill. Being able to realise the full potential of new technologies will be pivotal.

Conclusion - How to prepare for the future of work

As we are seeing, technology is significantly changing the way mining companies work and will need to operate, the introduction of AI will undoubtedly impact how HR programmes are designed and implemented. Our view is that companies who embrace this change and effectively organise their HR, Talent and Reward practices will have a competitive advantage in the Forth Industrial Revolution.

Starting from a strategic perspective, our consultants can help you to translate business strategy into work strategy, to define a compelling work value proposition and set up the organisation for future needs. We help you to carefully redesign your people programmes and define governance as well as technology for seamless execution and agility, allowing them to easily adapt to changes. Because as Heraclitus recognized: “The only thing that is constant is change”.


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