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How to use the metaverse to empower mining talent


August 16, 2022

Advances in automation technology and AI, the drive for decarbonization and mounting geopolitical forces are all reshaping the future of the mining industry. This is likely to mean more autonomous, agile and remote operations, leading to a safer and more cost-efficient business environment. However, it will also mean a major shift in the skillsets necessary to support new digitally driven operating models. And the most sought-after skills may be in short supply.

As discussed in our recent report on transforming future talent, mining companies will need to adopt new talent acquisition and development strategies to thrive in a digitalized, decarbonized world. Traditional approaches will simply no longer be adequate. Here’s why:

Consider a new autonomous mining world where the majority of employees work remotely from the mine site. In Australia, for example, Accenture expects that the number of remote mining workers will approach 60% within the next decade. By 2040, it will be even higher. With so few people onsite at that point, the challenge will be how to create human connections between those remote workers and the onsite assets and employees they support.

There are elements of the metaverse that mining companies can harness today to build the talent needed for a rapidly approaching, digitally enhanced industry.

Building on the work Accenture did with the World Economic Forum’s Mining and Metals Future of Work Taskforce, we also see growing requirements to upskill both onsite and remote workers in digital fluency to support the ESG (environmental, social and governance) agenda. Similarly, greater digital fluency will be crucial for maintenance teams moving from traditional mechanical work to managing autonomous maintenance systems.

Empowering talent for an increasingly digital industry

Our position is that the best way to prepare for a digitally driven future in mining is to leverage digital talent development strategies. Today, that means embracing all that the metaverse has to offer.

The metaverse is a continuum of technologies and experiences rapidly reshaping how businesses and people interact with the physical world. Most important, there are elements of the metaverse that mining companies can harness today to build the talent needed for a rapidly approaching, digitally enhanced industry. Specifically, we see the metaverse playing a central role in meaningfully connecting remote and onsite operations, as well as providing an engaging and effective pathway for upskilling employees across all mining operations.

Connecting remote workers to onsite operations

Accenture is currently working with a leading mining and metals company on adopting virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies and experiences to digitally bring remote workers closer to onsite mining operations.

This company recognizes how important it is for its office staff—geologists, engineers, chemists, environmental and safety managers, marketers and others—who may be quite distant from the mine to understand and empathize with the needs of their colleagues onsite. However, getting people from offices physically onsite is both expensive and potentially hazardous. This is precisely where the metaverse fits in.

The metaverse can replicate the onsite mine experience for people in distant offices using VR/AR technologies. By providing an intimate lens into mine operations, these technologies allow remote staff to gain empathy for the needs of onsite employees. It is a powerful way to understand conditions where the physical work of mining takes place, helping office practitioners gain a greater sense of purpose and potentially create more impactful services.

The possibilities enabled by the metaverse also extend to the greater ecosystem of partners providing services and solutions for the mine. Because they serve mining operations around the world, many of these partners may never have an opportunity to be onsite. But through the metaverse, they are able to experience the mine as if they were there and even collaborate in real time with people onsite.

For example, the remote delivery center staff for a mining company would likely not get an opportunity to visit the mine site to better understand the context for the services they are providing. An interactive VR/AR space would allow the team to see the enormous scale of the mining equipment, understand the day-to-day challenges and work virtually with their onsite colleagues to develop solutions for those challenges.

Upskilling remote and onsite employees

Remote operations, remote maintenance and autonomous onsite operations all require new skills—digital skills. Mining companies can use the metaverse as a means of developing digital fluency through their learning programs.

Accenture research finds that to truly engage employees, companies must move beyond traditional one-way training by adopting more immersive learning environments that engage all the human senses. The metaverse creates a simulated world where employees can have a full experience as close to the real thing as possible.

For example, working with one mining company, we showcased the possibilities of the metaverse in One Accenture Park, our shared virtual reality space where participants can have immersive, hands-on and interactive experiences. This company is already using VR and AR capabilities for its field maintenance workforce apprenticeship program and now they are looking at the metaverse to further digitize their learning programs—providing “hands-on” training without ever needing to be directly onsite.

Actions to take today

Through the metaverse, mining companies have the opportunity to bring digital experiences to the physical world. The metaverse holds the key to putting personalized, automated capabilities in the hands of everyone from the mine site to the C-suite. The question on many people’s minds now is where to get started.

Like any digital transformation, integrating the metaverse into mining operations is a journey. A good place to begin is by creating a view of your future workforce and the capabilities and skillsets they will need. Start small, leverage available technologies to fast-track development of digital skills, realize quick wins and then scale from there.

From a technology perspective, companies can pilot new VR/AR use cases that take advantage of the increased data capacity and security of 5G to advance their training and development programs. They can experiment with digital twins to help remote office staff better serve their onsite colleagues with new predictive and prescriptive mining solutions.

There are many paths to the metaverse that a mining company can take based on their individual business priorities and objectives. Let’s talk about how to take the first step for your organization.

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Gastón Carrión

Managing Director – Global Natural Resources Talent & Organization/Human Potential Lead