Miners of tomorrow: how can technology attract new talent to an aging industry?

Finding talented workers is a challenge in any industry. Advancements in technology are changing the skill sets needed in mining.

In the latest episode of our Mining Matters podcast series, Hexagon’s Mining Division CTO, Rob Daw and Director of the Geotechnical Centre of Excellence, Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources, Dr. Brad Ross discuss how technology can attract talent to the mining industry.




Q: Brad, I’d like to start with you for some perspective on this topic. You and Rob have a long background in mining. How has technology changed the industry since you started, Brad?

BR: Wow. That’s a question that makes me feel kind of old! When I started, it was the dawn of the computer age, and so it hadn’t really hit mining yet. We did all our planning and work manually. So instead of using a computer, we drew out the plans on paper. We did our calculations and everything on spreadsheets, with tables, and then typed in or manually handwrote notes for a report. It’s changed completely. From a very manual world to today, it’s just completely different the way that we do our work, and I might say a lot better that the concept of “the good old days,” which really doesn’t apply.

Q: Rob, I knew you grew up on a farm, but you got into mining some time ago. What’s your perspective?

RD: I think it’s really transformed from that manual phase into a more digital world. This has increased the speed and accuracy of how we do our jobs. Sensors, analytics and the way that we consume and process information today has really enabled us to increase productivity, reduce costs, and focus on safety.

Technology is opening opportunities for us to explore new areas, mine new types of deposits, and continue to advance the mining industry and make it competitive against other primary industries.

Q: So, Rob, what are the Hexagon technologies that are creating new roles in mining or adapting to new roles in mining?

RD: I don’t think we’re necessarily creating new roles. We’re transforming existing roles by looking at different aspects of the mining value chain. Surveying is a good example. I think your traditional surveying role has really transformed over the years, from someone who used a total station and picked up points in the field. Now we have a lot of automated technologies and drones and other types of tech that we can use. The surveyor is transitioning into more of a spatial officer who looks at the digital twin ecosystem, manages that data and leverages that information from there.

If we look at the geotechnical side of things, we’re not just looking at wall deformation but also hazard management. How do we take that data, transform it and use it to keep people safe at mines? Look at operators and how their work is moving more toward that autonomous technology stack. They are no longer sitting in the cab, but in air-conditioned rooms with remote-control and monitoring capabilities. So, I think those are just a few roles that are transforming because of technologies that Hexagon provides.

BR: When you think about it, it’s not just in the office anymore. It’s now sitting at home, doing the work. One of the things that we’ve seen with COVID is the technology we have really changes where and how we work.

RD: And I think what impresses me most about that is how rapidly we’ve adopted that change and I think that’s a testament to where the mining industry is headed.

BR: Having gone through the Bingham Canyon Manefay crisis, I think crisis situations accelerate change. And I think that certainly is the case the past six months. We’ve changed a lot of things that probably would have taken us years, if not decades, to change.

NJ: Can the technology itself be used to leverage or to recruit new talent? Is there a way mining companies can leverage technology to recruit new talent? Brad, any thoughts on that?

BR: Yeah, absolutely. I think if you look at how we recruit right now, we still go on campus, but now we’re also doing it remotely.

We can test people in different ways where they don’t realize they are being tested for aptitude. For example, going to drone races and sponsoring a team. Maybe you hire the winning team to do that same sort of work but broaden it to a whole new area. Technology helps us find people that we’ve never found before.

RD: I think, also, it’s how we approach people as well. When I entered the mining industry, it was off a radio ad, whereas today we have social-media platforms and other ways to engage. And I think this also comes back to social responsibility and how we educate people about what mining is. Once people understand what it is, there will be real appetite to be involved with that. Leveraging technology to broaden our communication to people assists in this process.

With the advent of new technologies, we are going to attract different people. There is an opportunity for people with gaming backgrounds to be able to come in and operate. I also think that industry plays a big part in the way that we can, from a technology point, engage with different groups. We see massive changes in the startup scene. We see hackathons where industry is really engaging with not just mining, but all sorts of different groups out in the world, from space to agriculture to everything else to see how we can adapt and adopt new technology stacks. I think we’ve come a long way in the last three to five years and finding ways we can work collaboratively inside and outside the mining industry itself will continue to accelerate.

To hear the full interview, click here.

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