SRK panel asks: ‘What if mining was cool?’
What if mining was cool? It’s an interesting question for people in the industry – who by and large do think mining is cool, but find that their views are not shared by society at large. In a thought leadership panel at Reimagine Mining, mining consultancy SRK discussed how the mining sector could change this perception.
The panel was moderated by Gary Poxleitner, principal mining consultant with SRK, and included: Daniella Dimitrov, executive vice-president and CFO of Iamgold; Erin Bobicki, associate professor of mineral processing, University of Alberta; and Siri Genik, principal and founder of Bridge Consult.
Illustrating how entrenched negative views of mining are, Poxleitner shared that even his 18-year-old son, who grew up in the mining centre of Sudbury with two parents who work in the industry, decided against studying mining at university. “He chose mechanical engineering,” Poxleitner said, adding that the sector is seen as “not all that clean” and lagging in innovation behind other industries. “A lot of his friends are more interested in aerospace or automotive than they are in mining.”
The perception of mining as a technology laggard is not unfounded. Daniella Dimitrov noted that while the mining sector has invested heavily in new technology in recent years, technologies such as autonomous haulage, drones and AI are still relatively new to the industry.
“As a banker, when you hear that someone is using a new technology, there is certainly more concern around risk than when someone says, I’m using this processing methodology that has been in use for 50 plus years – there’s a certain degree of comfort that comes along with that,” said Dimitrov who worked in investment banking before joining Iamgold this year. “Even within our own industry, there is some ways to go around that acceptability of technology and how truly that has penetrated our industry.”
That could actually be a powerful incentive to attract young people to the mining industry, Erin Bobicki noted. Bobicki, who describes herself as a “super dork,” thinks mining is cool because of the technical challenges the industry is facing and the ability to make a real impact.
“There’s an opportunity for young people to come in with new ideas and change this industry and change the course of humanity, to be quite frank. That sounds dramatic, but the extraction of metals consumes 15% of global energy. If you can change that by just a little bit, you can have a dramatic impact on global CO2 emissions,” Bobicki said.
“[At] Apple, Tesla, Google, you can go work in a cool office, but are you going to be able to change the lives of everybody on the planet the way that you can in mining? I’m not sure. My message would be: if you want to save the world, you should work in mining,” she added.
Telling mining’s stories in a better way is also essential to gaining acceptance. Siri Genik said mining’s full value chain, from pit to product, should be communicated. “(We have to explain) what goes into that Tesla or that rocket or hydrogen tank, from concept to consumer so people understand that it’s not just a hole in the ground, but it involves strong supply chains, logistics and it has negative and positive.”
The industry should also make sure to explain it in a way that everyone can understand. “It’s more about taking the message, making it simple and transparent and helping people understand. Because everybody has a smartphone. We’re all on Zoom.”