In the mining industry, talent is rapidly becoming a key issue. In many countries, large portions of the workforce are preparing to retire. In the United States, for example, half of the current workforce in the U.S. is expected to retire by 2029, leaving a large experience gap.1 Filling that gap with young people is likely to be difficult. In the U.S. alone, the number of available mining and mineral education programs dropped 44 percent from 1982 to 2014.2
What’s more, skilled workers are often not located where they are needed most. Many mining operations are in isolated areas, far from large numbers of skilled workers, complicating the search for talent. Many miners end up hiring and training relatively low-skilled local workers, partly to meet local hiring requirements.3
But, evolving digital technology is opening new alternatives. With the Internet of Things (IoT), companies can connect workers in any location to office systems with field equipment at mining sites, making it possible to perform many jobs remotely. This provides companies with access to a much broader pool of skilled talent to support remote operations.
Creating a virtual talent pipeline
One innovative option connecting miners with global talent is to create a virtual talent pipeline— an online, third-party training and matchmaking platform introducing mining companies with the right talent. This hypothetical approach, which we call “MineAcademy,” combines free, online education with job opportunities, helping bridge the gap between skills and workforce demands.
The platform could be designed to allow mining companies to post employment contracts for each role for the remote workers, showing the type of skills needed, estimated duration of the contract, award date, and the contract value. At the same time, it could provide online training aimed at these contract roles, so potential applicants could gain skills needed for the job posted.
The platform could even create a skills test for a given position—based on a specific mining company’s training program—which applicants would have to pass before being able to apply. This approach would help to confirm that only workers who are motivated and demonstrably qualified are in the application pool. Candidates who have a significant amount of experience could bypass the training session and go directly to the skills test.
The scope could also include capabilities for mining companies to monitor the training progress of candidates through an interactive dashboard. If enough people were not moving through the pipeline, for instance, the company could raise the value of the contract to attract more applicants or modify the training content to improve completion rates.
Once the application period ended, ideally, mining companies would have a sizable pool of qualified applicants to identify the right individual for the job.
The contract workers’ perspective
To attract interested workers, mining companies could advertise online encouraging visitors to the MineAcademy site to create a user profile with their resume, work experience and education. When the worker accesses the site or takes training, the profile shows completed training courses and employer evaluations from previous contracts. Companies participating in the platform could access this information at any time.
When looking for projects, candidates would browse through posted descriptions of work contracts, including valuable information about how much time is left before a contract gets awarded, how many people are registered for the training course, and how many are under consideration for the contract. These statistics would help balance out supply and demand, so trainees do not spend time pursuing contracts that already have many qualified applicants.
Overall, workers would have an incentive to deliver high-quality work on each contract to earn higher ratings that would make them more competitive on future contracts. And they would be encouraged to keep their industry skills current, both to attract employers and to be able to skip training and apply to contract postings more quickly.
Lower costs, greater innovation
The benefits of implementing a virtual talent pipeline like the MineAcademy concept are numerous. The increased IoT investment mining companies are making makes more roles location-agnostic. For example, Rio Tinto in Australia has built an operational center in a major urban center, 1500 km away from the actual mine production site in a sparsely populated region. Hundreds of staff work from the remote urban operational center and control the mine’s rail systems, infrastructure facilities and port operations.4
By leveraging IoT investments, mining companies can use online training and job matching to match highly educated and skilled workers from other regions like India, with roles that can be performed remotely—potentially driving down labor costs.
The platform could also help mining companies address the knowledge drain associated with large numbers of retirees. Creating targeted training provides the opportunity to capture the experience-based knowledge of seasoned workers and share it widely—expanding the pool of potential employees with the right knowledge.
Finally, the platform could enhance innovation in the mining industry by making it easier to bring workers with different backgrounds, skills and perspectives together to collaborate on projects.
Although currently a hypothetical example, MineAcademy illustrates the potential that exists for finding new ways of training talent and managing hiring in the mining industry. It offers a practical approach to tapping into the global talent pool—to the benefit of workers and mining companies alike.