With digital advancement comes a need to make sure workers are equipped with the right skillsets
By Rebekah Kowalski and Barry Elliott

As workers’ roles continue to rapidly evolve in the industry’s move toward digitalization, companies should focus efforts on modernizing their employment value proposition and developing a strong workfoce strategy.

Today, companies find themselves in a unique global position. Mine operations may be paused or disrupted due to COVID-19, but it shouldn’t stop them from looking to the future to determine how to address one of the industry’s top challenges: the evolving workforce.

Digital technologies are changing the way mines operate and how they solve challenges like keeping up with growing demand while addressing declining ore grades. As this transformation continues, there will be a greater need for digital skills to use new tools that can help improve productivity and visibility in mines. And new workers with specialized skills will be needed to help mining companies get value from their data and from new technologies like machine learning.

Reshaping the workforce for a digital mine could prove difficult as they compete for hard-to-find skilled workers. Talent shortages, for example, are currently cited as a top risk for mining companies and are the most severe since 2006. And 95% of candidates that mining companies would like to hire are currently employed or engaged elsewhere.1
But by taking some critical steps to modernize the workforce, businesses can put themselves in the best position possible to attract and retain the employees needed in the digital era.

A Changing Workforce
Technology in today’s mines is reshaping the work employees do and the skills they use to do it. For starters, a mix of technical skills and soft skills like project management, communication and change management are increasingly key to success. But roles are also drastically evolving as mining operations become more digitalized.

Drivers, for example, are becoming remote operators. And maintenance mechanics are transitioning into predictive maintenance specialists. Meanwhile, multiskilled engineers are combining mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer engineering skills into one role.  Entirely new roles are emerging, a prime example is a vendor- or OEM-collaboration manager. This role handles integration efforts and works with the external resources to increase the success of new technology.  With the right development opportunities, a collaboration manager could be a career progression for drivers or machine operators, plant operators, engineers, or others with mining process aptitude and strong interpersonal skills.

Sourcing this role from internal candidates will be essential, as these employees must bring expertise in core operations and processing functions and often require deep machine or process knowledge. Internal candidates have existing relationships and organizational context to represent the interests and unique needs of the company. Of course, with so much change in roles, modernizing a workforce might feel like an overwhelming task. So, consider focusing efforts on two things: modernizing the employment value proposition (EVP) and developing a strong workforce strategy.

Modernize the EVP
It’s inevitable that companies will find themselves competing with not only other mining companies, but also other industries for the best talent. To help secure the skilled workers needed, take steps to update an EVP. An EVP is an exchange. The employer offers a work environment with pay, benefits, culture and opportunity, while the employee brings the valued skills, experience and work ethic that the employer needs.

An EVP is more than human resource hype. Organizations with attractive EVPs can reduce compensation premiums for attracting qualified candidates and reduce annual turnover by nearly 70%.2
The best way to do this is to look at the roles from the potential employee’s perspective. Why should they work for you over another employer in the industry? What will make them stay at the company? What capabilities can they bring forward? What work environment will be provide to them? The answers to these questions help lead companies to a modernized EVP.

Four Strategies for Success 
Building the workforce requires more than updating hiring practices. A combination of workforce strategies — or the “four Bs” of workforce development — are needed to gain and groom the employees one needs in their digital mines.

Build: This is often the first strategy companies look at when navigating workforce changes and transformations. It involves investing in learning and development to grow your talent pipeline. Tactics such as identifying future potential, providing accelerated learning programs, and building a culture of learnability are key components of this strategy.

Buy: This involves looking outside of the company for talent. Many of the roles that mining companies seek are built on skills that are present in other industries. But companies will need to be cognizant of an EVP, because the candidates may see other industries as more appealing, at least on the surface.

Borrow: This strategy involves leveraging outside talent communities like freelancers, contract employees and temporary workers. In some cases, these workers can bring skills that are especially valuable for digitalized operations. Freelancers and contract employees, for example, tend to have experience working remotely, which can help them support multiple mines at once.

Bridge: This requires creating a proactive and smooth relocation plan for individuals who aren’t used to a new organizational strategy or its required competencies. Digital transformation and automation have created a skills revolution, where new skills emerge as fast as others become obsolete. It’s crucial that you are able to not only optimize the skills you have in your workforce, but also find alternate pathways for those whose skills are no longer a fit.  Consulting companies are a great resource for helping employers and employees with the process of finding another occupation that leverages the employee’s skills and experience.

Get to Work
Technology is changing the industry quickly. As this transition occurs, companies must make sure the workforce evolves with it by having the right skillsets.  Companies can get ahead of workforce changes by understanding how roles and positions have changed, modernizing an EVP and developing a workforce strategy that takes a company from now to next.