The very concept of work is being redefined due to changing workforce demographics and rapid advancements in technology, and the Australian mining industry is no exception.

As the lines become blurred between the physical, digital and biological, leaders must reshape their organisations and their workforce to drive value, productivity, innovation and talent retention.

The mining and metals sector is a critical contributor to the Australian economy, with assets in all states and territories with trade rising after a prolonged period of commodity price weakness. We are seeing increased infrastructure spend accordingly, with technology a key part of this.

From BHP, Fortescue and Rio Tinto’s autonomous haulage projects to remote Internet of Things (IoT) sensors enabling real-time data capture, the digital mine is no longer a pipe dream.

Accenture believes the mining company of the future will be one with highly connected workers working in tandem with artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies to improve safety, productivity and profitability.

Connected devices and wearables will become commonplace on the minesite to optimise mining processes and safeguard workers. While the workforce of the future is an exciting proposition, it will require humans to modify how work is organised, performed and managed.

Accenture’s recent Reworking the Revolution research highlighted the need for human-machine collaboration and reskilling. It found 66 per cent of Australian workers thought the share of roles requiring collaboration with AI would rise in the next three years and only three per cent of CEOs planned to significantly increase investment in reskilling their workforce in the next three years.

This disconnect puts potential growth at risk, unless leaders pivot their workforce and equip their people to work with these intelligent technologies. Technology and innovation most commonly fail through a lack of cultural change.

Mining companies that take steps to realise this future will build a more productive and safer workforce, with point of need knowledge. They will invite innovation through social collaboration and employee empowerment and they will improve employee value proposition in an industry that faces a talent shortage.

The digital worker of tomorrow must be engaged and prepared today. So how can mining companies get ahead of the curve to foster this future workforce, putting their people as the priority?


Management of existing and future workforce

Mining companies will need to rethink how they utilise their employees.

Tomorrow’s approach will be much more fluid between roles and projects. Instead of having the same job for several years, for instance, miners will source internal employees from across the organisation into ad-hoc projects, or what we call ‘task forces’.

The change in worker demographics will also bring opportunities to blend wisdom from the generations already employed with insights and attitudes from younger generations.


Greater use of extended workforce

In some cases, contractors can represent 60 per cent of the mining workforce, and this percentage will increase steadily.

The irony is mining companies typically don’t apply the same management and development practices to this extended workforce, many of whom are completing critical processes right alongside employees.

For example, most miners conduct extensive training for employees. Including contractors in this training can improve productivity and engagement and reduce safety issues while improving cost-effectiveness.


Workforce experience

Based on analysis of some of Accenture’s largest clients, millennial and Generation Z employees will comprise 50 per cent of the workforce by 2020 and 75 per cent by 2025.

These ‘digital natives’ have different expectations for their employee experience. They are looking for organisations with ethical brands and flexible policies. They seek interactive, team-based work along with a variety of career paths.

Accustomed to being connected 24/7, they expect continuous access to resources (people and technology), as well as ongoing informal feedback and learning opportunities.

Delivering a great workforce experience can be a magnet for talent of all generations. The objective is to engage employees in ways that they actually want, with meaningful work, customised rewards, fair compensation based on performance and relevant perks.


Train to grow and retain

With a growing gap in the number of technical employees trained to manage current and future digitised roles, there is a pressing need to upskill and retrain the workforce to meet these new digital demands, whilst attracting and retaining talent.

Rio Tinto has made good progress in this area, working with the WA State Government and TAFE Australia to provide vocational training in robotics for its mining workers.

High impact mentoring programs can also be effective. Encourage more experienced employees to train junior members of the workforce and pass on knowledge and skills through mentoring programs.

Additionally, employee development programs can be offered for talent with critical skills and high potential. Use augmented reality/virtual reality to enable experienced employees to provide ‘over the shoulder’ coaching of new hires or provide their highly desired skill sets to multiple locations without having to travel.

Now more than ever, mining and metals companies in Australia need to look at their future talent needs and establish workforce and technology strategies to ensure they have a robust and appropriately skilled supply of employees.

Both in the near term and in the coming decades, this will be essential to achieve their desired business outcomes and maintain a competitive edge.