COVID-19 is fundamentally changing the workplace. In mining, the pandemic has both accelerated industry digital agendas and necessitated long-term remote-working strategies that keep workers safe and support their wellbeing. In order to maintain that momentum, Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) must develop targeted policies that unlock the full potential of the workplace evolution (Figure 1).
CHROs we have spoken with are basing new workforce strategies on three factors. First, the identification of all roles that don’t need to be located on-site. Second, the increased industry advocacy for flexible working (leaders are now recognizing that remote work can increase productivity). And third, de-centralization of the workforce, achieved through a hybrid model of fewer people on-site and smaller offices that become centers of collaboration and innovation.
Figure 1: Pandemic has disrupted mining workforce dramatically
A transformed mining workforce will require different skills, which are being dictated by key trends. For example, with specialized mechanical roles (i.e. machine operators) and repetitive tasks (i.e. data processing) most likely to become automated, workers with analytical skills will be in demand. Artificial intelligence, machine learning and process-automation experts will be needed to oversee new ways of working. In addition, the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report identifies leadership and social influence as a main focus of mining companies’ reskilling or upskilling programs—empathy is vital to mitigating the potential negative impact of remote working on mental health, and managers need superior communication skills to manage isolated teams.1 And finally, with remote working fatigue hitting the workforce and leaving workers susceptible to mental health issues, managers must be vigilant in checking on workers and companies must provide ongoing support as ways of working evolve.
A fundamental redesign of where people work will have an immediate impact on how they work.
With strategies in place to reorganize where and how people work, CHROs must work to attract new talent and support the workforce through the changes ahead. A flexible, sustainably focused, community-centric and transparent working culture will help to attract necessary experts, from climate scientists (key to industry environmental, social and governance goals) to tech-savvy talent from adjacent industries. Proactive steps must also be taken to attract women, people with families and other responsibilities to the newly flexible mining industry, since the pandemic stands to exacerbate inequality.2
Going forward, companies must create as many upskilling opportunities as possible. These should range from individual-focused, continuous training (via Massive Open Online Courses etc.), strategic, large-scale digital programs, as well as mentoring and reverse-mentoring schemes. And finally, companies must work hard to fully reconnect with the individuals that make up their workforce. Companies thrive when they address the full range of the workforce’s fundamental needs, leaving them Net Better Off. Specifically, it is imperative to ensure the financial, emotional, mental and physical well-being of the workforce—as well as enhance their sense of belonging and inclusion, and their quest for finding purpose in their work.3
The pandemic has led to vast challenges, but it has also acted as a catalyst for much-needed change. COVID-19 has reinforced the need for a full digital transformation in mining and increased opportunities to diversify the workforce to prepare the sector for cyclical skills shortages. With today’s momentum to find new approaches and the clear opportunities ahead, now is the time for change.