(As originally published in the Canadian Mining Journal, 1 August 2017)

The war for critical talent is morphing

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By: Theophile Yameogo, EY Canada’s Mining & Metals Advisory leader

It’s no secret the mining industry continues to suffer from the impacts of low productivity. EY has done extensive research on the issue over the past five years, looking specifically at the challenges and opportunities of labour. While assets, capital and energy productivity focus on getting higher output out of the input, the challenge of labour productivity can be summed up in one question: how do we get the most out of our talent?

A 2014 EY report, Productivity in labor: it is only a ceasefire – the war for talent will continue, discussed key strategies to enable a competitive advantage in talent acquisition, retention and management. The report was focused on dealing with the exit of critical skills, as well as a predicted upswing in commodity prices and sector growth. Not surprisingly, the underlying assumptions and analyses remain relevant today.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution workforce

The aging of the workforce at all levels is one of the main concerns of mining leaders, along with expected generational gaps, an outdated image of mining in many developed societies, low diversity, and lack of interest by younger people to enter the mining sector.

Consolidations and global markets have expanded the mining footprint around the world. But past human-resource models in culturally diverse environments turn previous theories on career and success drivers on their heads, and bring into question corporate identity and belonging.

Although still at the beginning stages in mining and metals, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is expected to bring its own set of challenges.

First of all, as identified in our latest report on digital mining, The digital disconnect: problem or pathway? the lack of digital education and understanding may result in resistance to change or a panicked rush to implement digital fads. As a result, the productive workforce in mining will require some digital education to be better equipped.

Second, the expected digital disruptions will affect models inside and outside the value chain. The lenses through which we hire, manage and reward our workforce, will need to adapt to a new reality. As one mining executive mentioned recently, operating in real-time 3-D and virtual reality and swapping spreadsheets for advanced analytics, could become part of the basic skills required from mining employers.

Third, artificial intelligence and other robotics and autonomous systems will challenge the traditional mining workforce.

Gatekeepers and digital disrupters

Mining companies need to have clear strategies in place to cover their bases while getting ready to embrace digital.

On one hand, the industry needs experienced and senior talent to stay through the downturn. At the height of the unusually extreme cost cutting measures, headcount reductions indiscriminately swept away talent from many departments in corporate offices, engineering companies and mine sites.

The industry witnessed early retirements as part of “right sizing.” Businesses that benefited from the sudden availability of critical talent now need to ensure retention strategies are robust enough to keep valuable employees.

On the other hand, talent that will drive growth in the coming years and decades has barely entered the industry. As we continue to challenge our sector by adopting digital and lean mining, a forward-looking workforce will be a different breed of operators, engineers, accountants and leaders. They most likely have minimal to no mining experience. But their digital experience and ability to operate seamlessly in the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be critical for the sector’s renaissance. The sector simply must start investing in those newcomers.

In terms of gender, cultural and intellectual varieties, mining has a lot of opportunities to rethink operating models and harness diversity in the workforce. To be successful in enriching ourselves with new talent, we need to be creative in our hiring and retention strategies.

Disruptions to mining will be major, and proper change management will be critical. That leaves one thing for certain: organizations will need to develop clear strategies for addressing their evolving human-resource needs.