The Mining and Metals Industry Action Group (IAG) of the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Accenture, has over the last few months explored and identified areas where the industry can collaborate to prepare for a world being reshaped by COVID-19. This blog is second in a series of publications that is looking at this work.

Envision that when a global pandemic hits, operations for mining and metals companies can continue uninterrupted. We see a future where this is possible.

COVID-19 has brought many changes in the way mining and metals companies work, from closing operations, limiting travel, to adjusting work shifts to reduce person-to-person contact. What if the energy put into shifting operations was avoidable? Companies have the opportunity to change the nature of the way their people work.

With that in mind, the World Economic Forum and Accenture have been discussing how the industry can embrace a “New Paradigm of Work.” This paradigm centers around the need to foster a collaborative relationship between stakeholders, organizations and technology to develop resilience and flexibility in operations and the workforce—qualities that will take the industry through the current pandemic and enable it to thrive in the long run.

The need for this paradigm is not entirely new. For several years, safety, social responsibility and environmental issues have been creating a need to re-think the industry’s approach to the workforce and operations. So too has the advent of the technology-driven Fourth Industrial Revolution. In 2017, Accenture and the World Economic Forum projected that digital transformation, while bringing tremendous financial benefits to mining and metals, will also lead to the loss of some 330,000 jobs—5% of the industry workforce—as more robots and smart machines are put to work.1 And 93% of executives in a cross-industry study said that their company’s existence was jeopardized by outdated operating models even before the pandemic.2

These trends have been underway for some time. But the disruptions of the COVID-19 crisis have dramatically highlighted the problems with traditional models and brought increased urgency to the need for a new paradigm.

Adopting a New Paradigm of Work will require collaborative, industry-wide efforts, because many factors affecting the workforce transcend company boundaries. In addition, the resilience of individual companies is tied to the overall resilience of the industry. The New Paradigm of Work has two fundamental factors at its center—technology and people. Even as they work on short-term efforts to keep workers safe, companies need to consider how they can strengthen those two areas for the long term.

Enabling Technological Advances

The pandemic has clearly demonstrated the importance of virtual operating models that draw on highly flexible remote workers. Now, companies should take further advantage of the evolving digital technologies that enable those models. That will mean finding ways to connect people with each other, and with equipment, devices, and sensors from across the enterprise. It will also mean improving the company’s ability to capture and use clean, accurate data from many sources. After all, an effective virtual operating model depends on good data to drive better decision making and enable people and operations to respond quickly and accurately to disruptions.

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Having sound data and connected people and assets opens the door to the broader use of advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. These can support real-time decisions and provide predictive views of how the workforce will need to be flexed to meet changing conditions. These technologies can also support increased automation, making processes faster and more flexible. Ultimately, they can lead to autonomous operations that are managed from remote operating centers and require few people on site, thus increasing safety and mitigating the impact of future disruptions. This digital transformation of the industry has the ability to attract new and young talent from the market as younger generations are keen to develop digital skills.

Empowering People in the New Paradigm

As companies make digital shifts, they need to make sure that their people are prepared to succeed with those solutions. Companies need to understand how the roles and responsibilities of workers will shift, and how employees can work with the technology. For example, maintenance mechanics are likely to find themselves working with AI-enabled tools to predict failures and perform preventative maintenance, while operators will no longer drive single pieces of equipment—they will remotely oversee multiple pieces of autonomous machinery operating at the same time.

In considering their people, companies should remember those at the top. Leadership—which is always important in times of change—will be critical in navigating through the pandemic and beyond. Leaders need to be visible, manage morale carefully, and help ease the anxieties associated with changing work lives. A recent Accenture survey found that 64% of the global workforce is currently experiencing high anxiety around job security.3 Additionally, leaders need to make transformative changes and provide employees with the tools and means to adopt new skills and ways of working.

Companies will also need to make the organization itself more flexible. This can be done by giving people more multi-faceted roles, as opposed to their traditional siloed specialist roles. Corporate and support functions will need to evolve to reflect more multi-skilled roles, and teams will need to be organized around specific objectives, rather than particular functions.

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Adopting a New Paradigm of Work will require collaborative, industry-wide efforts, because many factors affecting the workforce transcend company boundaries.

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Strengthening Industry Resilience

By strengthening their digital technology and equipping people to use it, mining and metals companies can put themselves in a better position to make fast decisions, respond to disruption, and quickly tap into the skills of employees, contractors, and workers at partner companies.

Collaborative efforts across the mining and metals industry can strengthen this New Paradigm of Work and enhance overall industry resilience. Accenture and the World Economic Forum have identified several key areas where this collaboration will support the New Paradigm of Work. For example, companies can work collectively to enhance the industry’s reputation and value proposition for potential employees; define and build the skills that will be needed in the future; and enhance and expand accessible education for all.

In short, companies can participate in these collaborative efforts to create “A New Paradigm of Work”—and ultimately, build resilience for the industry and for themselves.

Accenture and World Economic Forum leads

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David Burns

Managing Director, Lead – Natural Resources, Accenture

Jörgen Sandström

Head of Mining and Metals Industry – World Economic Forum

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1 WEF Report on Digital Transformation in metals and mining

Kathryn Jacobs

Managing Director – North America Mining Lead

Janet Taylor

Manager – Natural Resources

Amy Callahan

Managing Director – Lead, North America Chemicals & Natural Resources

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