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How miners can craft a digital workforce strategy for the digital age

Mining and metals organizations have taken a reactive approach to managing workforces in the past, hiring when prices rise and shedding excess resources when they fall. Not only is this costly, but it also pushes invaluable knowledge and experience to other sectors, limiting the desired talent available in times of upswing.

Technological advances are also minimizing the pool of available talent. The demand for workers who can master a different set of skills – such as data science, analytics and predictive modelling – is heating up. The challenge is that miners aren’t the only ones seeking these skills. People with these capabilities are being sought after worldwide, forcing mining companies to compete with other sectors – not just in Canada, but across the globe.

On top of all this, the mining and metals sector faces ongoing reputational risks. Health and safety issues are of mounting concern both for those considering joining the sector and for those already in it. This was evident at the BMO Global Mining & Metals conference, which highlighted a number of concerns following recent devastating tailing accidents. These events have created an urgent need for improved monitoring capabilities and global safety standards.

The reality is that the majority of the individuals who possess the skills needed for a digital mine are millennials.

Younger talent who tend to be more belief-driven consumers who want to buy and work for companies with sophisticated safety and environmental standards, and share a defined moral purpose. Unfortunately, mining companies aren’t always perceived to meet these standards.

Miners are stuck. Following low metal prices in 2018, the sector is starting to bounce back and companies will be looking to opportunistically grow their workforce. But companies will struggle to find workers who have the traditional, hands-on experience, with the right skill sets needed to succeed in a rapidly evolving industry. The sector needs an agile, resilient and affordable workforce that can thrive in an environment of both ongoing metal price volatility and digital disruption.

So where do we go from here?

Companies need to stop and think about the future and how to create a workforce strategy that will allow the organization to attract the required capabilities that are needed to grow, while arming the existing workforce with new technological skills. It’s time for mining companies to assess the short, medium and long-term requirements for success and invest accordingly. Here are four key considerations:

  • Reskill through education and training. Don’t overlook the talent you have right now. As technology evolves the workforce, companies will need to reskill workers to reduce redundant or changing tasks in the future. This will help balance workforce supply and demand by attracting top talent, while retaining aging employees.
  • Challenge conventional resourcing and development strategies. Look beyond the mining and metals sector to find new talent. For instance, it may be easier to source planning capabilities from a manufacturing or analytics background.
  • Build a purpose. Develop a positive narrative by actively communicating your company’s values, mission and purpose. This will help build the credibility the sector needs to attract younger, socially-conscious talent.
  • Enhance workplace conditions. Use technology to build a safer, more flexible workplace for employees. For example, technologies like cloud computing, information sharing and big data are allowing more operations to be performed remotely, so that employees can be removed from hazardous on-site events.

The relationship between people, work and organizations is rapidly evolving in this digital age, and those who want to be prepared to meet future disruption need to realize that talent is their greatest resource. By developing a strategic workforce strategy, mining companies will be better positioned to forecast future supply and demand, and guide how they will attract and grow required capabilities, while reskilling the existing workforce with new skill sets.

JEFF SWINOGA is the EY Canada Mining & Metals Leader. He is based in Toronto. For more information, visit

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