A recent article published by McKinsey & Co. shows that mining is far down the list of possible employment opportunities being considered by younger workers – in fact, it’s dead last among principal employment sectors, with 70% of survey respondents aged 15 to 30 stating they’d definitely or probably not consider working in the industry.

That poses a major problem for an industry that’s under pressure to improve its ESG performance while finding ways to also produce more of the critical metals associated with progress in electrification, renewables, automation and other technologies. And, it’s an immediate problem as well: According to authors* of the article Has mining lost its luster? Why talent is moving elsewhere and how to bring them back?, interviews conducted among miners in North America, Australia, Canada and Latin America indicate that mining companies are experiencing a talent squeeze, with 71% of mining leaders finding the talent shortage is hindering them from delivering on production targets and strategic objectives.

Furthermore, the article reports that 86% of mining executives are finding it harder to recruit and retain the talent they need versus two years ago – particularly in specialized fields such as mine planning, process engineering, and digital (data science) and automation. The authors expect this trend to continue, as mining is not currently an aspirational industry for young technical talent to join. For example, there has been around a 63% drop in mining engineering enrollment in Australia since 2014, and a 39% drop in mining graduations in the United States since 2016.

The industry has a number of perception factors working against it. For the large number of mines that are remote, the authors point out a set of additional significant structural challenges, such as lack of sophisticated infra-structure (hospitals, schools, entertainment, etc.) and therefore lower family-friendliness.

Equally, there is the perception that the work is physically demanding and hazardous. Then, once talent has been attracted and employed, additional pain points often include uninspiring capability development (beyond standard occupational training), limited or vaguely defined career progression pathways beyond middle-management layers, and insufficient levels of diversity and inclusion.

Most of those problems have been historically ongoing concerns, but more recent macro trends have brought these challenges into sharper relief, according to the study. These include a greater focus on challenges for minorities and women in mining, Gen Z’s expectations to have purpose at work, an increasing disconnection between what workers want and managers provide and competition for digital and technical talent among all industries.

The industry does have some attraction for future workers, the study notes: “Areas such as remuneration, tight-knit communities, and teamwork are typically well managed by mining companies. Remuneration is seen as a particular strength for the front line, with few competitive alternatives available in most geographies for similar skill levels. Social climate and teamwork often stem from the often-remote location of mine sites, with people tending to form stronger ties to their teammates and the community in both the workplace and informal settings.

“These structural strengths have historically enabled mining companies to attract large numbers of workers to remote mine sites around the world, allowing them to rapidly ramp up the workforce during times when commodities prices are booming. This ‘financial carrot’ is a well-worn tool that miners rely on to attract and retain their talent. However, with Gen Z increasingly expecting to have ‘friends’ at work, mining is well positioned and could highlight the depth of bonds formed as part of their value proposition.”

In order to reverse the negative employment trend, the article recommends a four-step initiative for the industry:

Treat talent as a strategic pillar, alongside safety, production, and cost. This involves investing continuous effort into maintaining an up-to-date talent strategy; updating the talent strategy regularly, just as production plans are continuously adjusted over time; and formulating and maintaining a robust, data-driven view of a company’s employee value proposition compared with competition both inside and outside the industry.

Double down on what matters to employees. Listen to what employees want using analytics to uncover what remains “unsaid.” Invest capital to solve persistent site infrastructure problems. Get ahead of what the next generation of talent values – young talent expects more flexible working arrangements and workplace inclusion than previous generations.

Understand which skills matter and invest in them. Find out which skills truly matter by leveraging analytics in recruitment. Leadership skills should be invested in purposefully and methodically across sites and offices, just as miners do for technical capabilities. Assist talent to renew and develop themselves through capability building throughout their careers.

Make bold moves on the social agenda. Start structural investment explicitly focused on the long-term sustainability of livelihoods and communities. Take a public leadership role to drive consistent approaches on key societal topics.

Proof Engineers says its Grader Performance Monitor enables management and operators to prioritize maintenance activities based on actual conditions.

Monitoring System for Improving Road Grader Effectiveness

Proof Engineers recently introduced a Grader Performance Monitor system, described as an advanced asset management system designed in response to mining and civil construction companies’ pursuit of haul road solutions that improve operational efficiency and lower costs.

The Queensland, Australia-based company said GPM can be installed easily onto road graders to collect and report site data back to management for identification of areas in the road network that require attention.

Proof Engineers’ manager of engineering and technologies, Jordan Handel, said GPM enabled management and equipment operators to prioritize maintenance activities based on actual conditions. 

“The GPM optimizes road maintenance practices by communicating information on grader performance and road conditions directly to management so they can make data-informed decisions that result in cost savings, improved efficiency and better road conditions ongoing,” Handel said.

“It is…easily installed on the turntable above a grader blade to collect and display critical data, including blade up and down locations and key performance metrics.

“The data is uploaded in real-time through a secure online platform to operators and management, wherever they are located, giving them a clear picture of road conditions to prioritize works.

“The algorithms programmed in the GPM are calibrated to determine whether the blades are up or down and advanced sensors map out the road quality, calculating and displaying key performance metrics instantly to the management platform in color code. 

“Green pixels show where the grader has the blades down working, with the shade of green depicting grading intensity, while red pixels show where the grader has travelled with its blades up. 

“The data gathered by the GPM calculates the grader’s efficiency, detailing whether the road maintenance team is working in the most valuable areas, to facilitate better planning for more efficient road maintenance.”

The company says GPM can be used as a standalone system or as an add-on to its Road Condition Monitor (RCM) technology to further advance road maintenance activities.

*Timur Abenov is an associate partner in McKinsey’s Sydney office, where Tino Grabbert is a partner; Margot Franklin-Hensler is a consultant in the Melbourne office; and Thibaut Larrat is an associate partner in the Toronto office.