The transformation of work and learning in mining
The global mining industry is undergoing a technology renaissance unlike any other in its history. Mining companies are increasingly evaluating, investing in, and deploying innovative technologies that will drive productivity, safety, and ultimately shareholder value within their organizations.
These technologies are not only redefining the definition of work, but they are also reshaping the world of training and development. Understanding the new skills workers will need to operate these technologies competently and confidently – as well as evolving expectations of how these workers want to learn – must be at the forefront of decision making within mining companies.
It is safe to assume that the days of learning exclusively by listening to an instructor in a physical classroom are long gone. Many subjects and skills can be effectively taught only through hands-on experiential learning and trainees are coming to expect more creative and engaging learning and development pathways. As technologies such as augmented / virtual reality (AR/VR) and equipment simulation grow more prevalent, the opportunities to blend and integrate technology-driven, interactive, and experiential methods of workplace education have never been greater.
Developing and delivering “blended learning” programs for the sk illed labour industries is a strategic priority for Norcat, a Sudbury, Ont.-based skilled labour training and development centre serving the global mining industry. Quite simply, the new world of work has created a new world of training and development, and we believe blended learning can take mine worker training, engagement, and knowledge retention to the next level.
Let’s start at the beginning. When considering integrating learning technologies with traditional methods of education delivery, companies must first assess the learning content, desired learning outcomes, and target audiences. Some mining topics and training modules are not conducive to classroom- based training, and furthermore, some workers prefer more hands-on, experiential methods of learning. There’s a time and a place for all forms of learning, and it’s incumbent upon those who develop and deliver training to evaluate how best to create learning experiences that benefit the full spectrum of workers and produce the required learning outcomes.
Determining the right type of training can be a creative process that builds in the flexibility to adjust methods based on worker preferences. Younger workers are typically more tech savvy than their older counterparts, and often expect to use newer learning technologies such as VR / AR and simulation- based training as part of their learning and development journey. That said, over the past five years, experienced mine workers seeking to incrementally improve their operational skills have formed one of the largest cohorts to utilize Norcat’s equipment simulation training centre.
When coupled with the right content and programming, we believe the design, quality, and user interface of these learning technologies, such as equipment simulation, has reached a tipping point whereby any trainee, of any demographic, with the desire to learn can effectively engage with and derive meaningful learning experiences from these technologies. However, while it is true that the opportunities for AR / VR and equipment simulation training are boundless, it is important to recognize their limitations.
For example, in the spirit of blended learning, let’s consider the process of learning to operate a scoop-tram. Using equipment simulation technology, workers can develop and enhance their skills in a safe, controlled environment. The trainees can be carefully observed and data collected in order to create reports that can help the trainer focus and refine further coaching and mentoring on the needs of individual learners. Now imagine the value of coupling this virtual training with in-thefield, hands-on validation of competence, using the actual piece of equipment in an actual underground operating mine.
This approach not only recognizes that learning technologies are only one ingredient in the pedagogical recipe, but also this blended method is scalable, cost effective, and better utilizes the assets in the operating mine to ensure they are focused on production and not training. No longer is the expectation that a new worker will need extensive time allocated to hands-on entry level training on a scoop-tram in an underground operating mine. In the new world, that same worker can achieve a base level of competency by first leveraging equipment simulation training and in doing so, expedites the learning pathway and significantly reduces the required asset utilization of production equipment in the operating mine. If the competency validation results in the field do not measure up, the worker can return for continued and enhanced training using the equipment simulator. This blended learning concept is redefining the world of work and learning in all skilled labour industries around the world.
The evolving technology landscape is always exciting and that often leads senior company management to believe traditional methods are outdated and to demand more innovation in how employees are trained. The key is understanding the right mix. Many of the most successful training programs Norcat has developed and deployed in the mining industry have taken a blended learning approach that incorporates classroom-based learning, AR/VR and equipment simulation, and in-the-field training on real equipment at an operating mine site.
In our experience, the companies that are most successful at giving their employees the knowledge and tools they need now and in the future are the ones that invest in defining the desired learning outcomes, build the right content and curriculum, and deliver the training with the right blend of learning methods. Doing this will ensure that workers have the right skills and confidence to do their jobs productively and safely – all day, every day.
DON DUVAL is the CEO of Norcat. For more, follow Don on LinkedIn and Twitter (@don_duval).