It has been said there is a massive paradigm shift going on in the world – a shift that is only slightly perceptible to some – but one that is already revolutionizing the mining industry.
Picture an image of a city block at the turn of the 20th century. Horse-drawn carriages fueled by grass and hay were the main method of transportation on dirt roads during the agricultural era. Fast forward a couple of decades and the image changes. Gasoline fueled motorcars on the roads marked the beginning of the fossil fuel era.
Now, the image is changing again. We are entering the era of electric vehicles (EVs). The metals needed to make rechargeable batteries used in everything from Teslas to energy storage to iPhones, include graphite, manganese, vanadium nickel, cobalt, copper, rare earths and lithium.
Global demand for these strategic minerals will skyrocket by 2050, according to the World Bank’s updated 2018 projections.
We are mining the minerals of the future, and the extraction processes will require more advanced technologies like virtual reality, artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain.
There is a bridge between the mining and technology industries, but the bridge is being gapped.
The mining industry is undergoing such a huge technology shift, it’s inevitable that its workforce needs to change, but the process has not been seamless.
Deloitte’s Tracking the trends 2019: The top 10 issues transforming the future of mining report highlights the need to attract technology experts into the industry. Deloitte is clear about the need for change in the industry to put the future of work into action.
“As miners grapple with the challenge of rebuilding their skill base and developing a workforce capable of bringing the industry along the technology pathway it needs to remain competitive, they must find new ways to motivate their workforce,” Deloitte asserts.
“Right now, the mining industry is not attracting sufficient numbers of diverse candidates to truly move the dial on its diversity and inclusion strategies. To shift this balance, companies will need to change their talent attraction and retention policies,” Deloitte says. “Most critically, miners will struggle to meet their digitization, automation, and innovation goals if they cannot attract what is quickly becoming the most in-demand cohort of talent in the world.”
Deloitte highlights what many in mining already know: That the industry is burdened with a perception problem among young people making career choices.
The mining industry faces a massive generational shift in Canada, with 26% of the current workforce expected to retire in the next ten years. To attract young talent, Deloitte argues, companies need to change historical perceptions about the mining industry itself.
MINING.com is the barometer of the mining news industry with more than 400,000 monthly users. 25% of its readers are aged 25-34. 22% are aged 35-44, so 47%, nearly half of its readers are under 45.
Rutendo Munatsirei, former co-op student editorial assistant at MINING.com is completing a Bachelor of Communications at Simon Fraser University. Following her practicum, she published a personal essay: The Mining Industry: A Millennial’s Perspective.
“When I look back, I am surprised at how little I knew about the industry coming into it and how much I gained from it,” Munatsirei writes. “Millennials have grown up in the information age, meaning that our lives are centered on the production and consumption of information, with nothing pointing us back to the raw materials that make up the basic components of our world.”
Munatsirei describes the cognitive disconnect between the mining industry and the millennial generation while painting a clear picture of how central mined minerals are to daily life.
“Without lithium or cobalt, forget your Tesla, iPhone, laptop, and any other fancy gadgets we like to play with. Without zinc and copper forget all modes of transportation. And without copper or iron ore, infrastructure like bridges and stadiums would be impossible to build. Without uranium, coal, natural gas and oil, forget electricity – well most of it anyway,” she writes.
“Most things that we see can trace their origins to a mine somewhere on the planet, but no one is going out of their way to connect the dots from raw materials to their final product. It seems the best place to hide is always in plain sight.”
Munatsirei feels the mining industry is not actively looking to recruit talent on university campuses, so students do not consider working in mining because of the lack of exposure.
“It is quite understandable how the mining industry is left out of the conversations we are having as young people today. Mining continues to look like a like a “grown-ups” sport instead of the exciting industry I discovered it to be,” she says.
“I would argue that for this generation, the mining industry is a gem in itself, waiting to be discovered,” she says. “There is more than enough room in the industry for millennials to take a seat at the table. I can safely say that there is so much more to the ‘game of mines’ than what many people realize, so it is worth taking some time to get to know it.”
Carlos da Costa, sessional lecturer at the Keevil Institution of Mining Engineering at the University of British Columbia (UBC), spent years as a professional in financial markets before discovering the mining industry when he took a course on Mining for Financiers at BCIT. It would alter the course of his career.
“It opened up my eyes – not that like I didn’t know what mining was all about – but it started piquing my interest. When I started thinking about doing my PhD, I said: How can my background in finance be used in the resource sector?,” da Costa remembers.
Today, da Costa teaches Mine Project Valuation and Risk Assessment, Mine Economics and Finance and Engineering Economics at UBC while he completes his PhD in Reclamation Bonding.
Da Costa believes the onus is on the industry to make improvements and bridge the communication gaps. One strategy, he says, is to communicate the spectrum of possibilities available in mining.
“What I tell students is: Look, if you’ve got a passion for technology, mining is an industry that’s evolving. If you look at what mining is going to be in the future, it is going to be a technology company that happens to go mining. That’s what mining in the future looks like. What looks like science fiction today, I guarantee it will not be science fiction tomorrow,” he says.
“I look at mining as a catalyst of the future. If you’ve got a passion in technology, there’s a home for you in mining. If you’ve got a passion in conservation, taking care of the lands, reclamation, there’s an interest in them. If you enjoy biology or chemistry, those are big interests in mining in terms of reclamation. If you enjoy engineering, there’s a home for you in mining,” da Costa says.
“Mining is global, so my view is if you’ve got a skill set, and you understand what mining is, you’ve got a job anywhere in the world.”