The key themes of the 2018 Diggers and Dealers conference stand in contrast with one another as opportunity and challenge for the mining industry.

On the opportunity front, the rapid advancement and adoption of mining technology stood out in 2018.

Advances in proximity monitoring, semi-automated drilling, sample analysis, world-leading drone automation — including underground beyond-line-of-sight navigation — all stood out as material advances on incumbent mining practices.

This wave of technological innovation is in part being facilitated by a generation of mid-tier mining executives who are adopting a more opened-minded approach in assessing new-technology investment as part of their capital allocation decisions.

In addition, miners seem more inclined to grant access to their operations for trialing new equipment, which is a crucial part of the innovation process.

The suite of new tech offerings on display at Diggers this year are providing material improvements in productivity and safety to the benefit of employees, shareholders and mining's largest royalty holder, the State Government.

The key challenge highlighted by the conference this year is an increasingly acute skilled labour shortage. There were anecdotes of fleet sitting idol, not due to lack of demand but lack of staff.

Labour hire firms are desperately trying to coax former miners and construction workers back from the Eastern States, but a boom in infrastructure activity in the east means the previous wave of migration to WA seen in the last boom is unlikely to repeat itself.

A change to the 457 visa application process means temporary skilled migration isn’t available either. As a result, miners are being forced to poach staff from one another, and with $11 billion in iron ore mine replacement about to commence, the skilled labour shortage will only intensify.

Whether or not restrictions on overseas skilled migration are eased, it appears likely the first ripples of increased disposable income will be felt in Perth’s retail and property markets next year.

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