December 2019

AusIMM’s Thought Leadership Series report

  • By AusIMM

Following the highly successful inaugural Thought Leadership Series in 2018, AusIMM visited five locations across Australia in 2019 to bring together industry professionals to discuss the future of our sector

The series featured keynote presentations from Australia’s Chief Scientists and panels exploring how science and technology is shaping the future of the resources industry.

This article is an excerpt of a longer report that looks in more detail at each of the topics covered by the keynote speakers and panellists across the event series.

The full report can be downloaded at

Summary of key themes

Ongoing advancements in science and technology have profoundly changed the resources sector. As the industry becomes more digitised, highly skilled professionals will play a key role in shaping the future of mining. Speakers and panellists discussed the rapid change we are experiencing as we move through the fourth industrial revolution, where analytics, robotics and automation are becoming regular features of mining operations.

A key theme across the series was collaboration, not only within the resources sector but between different industries. Collaboration will be key in helping professionals in traditional resources roles adapt to the future industry and allow the sector to embrace innovation and data-led decision making.

Along with this comes the responsibility to engage with the cultures and communities in which our sector operates. With a continuing shift away from the phrase ‘social licence to operate’ towards a discussion about ‘social value’, the Series highlighted a need for the industry to not only consider the impact of their operations but to make a meaningful and lasting contribution to communities. Part of this discussion is to explore what social value means in an automated and technologically advanced mining sector.

The Hon Bill Johnston MLA at the Perth event.

‘A key theme across the series was collaboration, not only within the resources sector but between different industries.’

Underpinning the discussion in all locations was an inherent optimism around the resources industry. Not only because ongoing innovation will lead to further efficiencies and allow the industry to deal with more complexities, but because Industry 4.0 will see the role of highly skilled professionals become more important than ever as technological advances continue.

A dramatically changing industry landscape

The Series emphasised that technological advancement in the mining industry has been potent and wide-reaching. The impact of this is felt across the life of mining operations from design to closure. Examples include the introduction of new machinery, such as drones and robotics, that have improved productivity and efficiency; and the use of cloud computing, sensors and data analysis that can help make better decisions and re-evaluate workplace processes.

One of the most pertinent issues discussed was not just how the mining industry is taking on new technologies for individual processes, but also how we are using these advancements to fundamentally shift the industry. Mining3 CEO Professor Paul Lever believes ‘we’ve been aggressive about taking on new ideas, but we haven’t been good at investing in those, and taking them forward, and getting the full benefit out of some of those advancements.’ There are opportunities across the entire supply chain around autonomous vehicles, virtual reality, drones and digitisation. The industry needs to shift its thinking to find far-reaching value from these technologies.

Delegates at the Melbourne event.

Role of the professional as an agent of change

Across the different panels, the consensus was that the resources sector will have to continue to embrace transformation in its workforce to include a more well-rounded knowledge base, rather than having circumscribed technical knowledge for each discipline. The focus needs to be on harnessing STEM techniques and also working to ‘humanise this technology… to revolutionise the mundane,’ Monash University Director of Engagement Professor Edward Buckingham said at the Melbourne event.

For a lot of the Series speakers, this means moving away from siloing our professionals into specific disciplines. BHP’s Calvin Snodgrass noted the focus will be ‘not so much [on] skillset, but mindset,’ noting that ‘we’re going to be competing for the best, most creative thinkers and problem solvers.’ Professionals will have to be more agile and multi-skilled and will also have to be open to disruptive change. Much of this comes down to the way we teach mining disciplines in university, ensuring graduates feel empowered to think more broadly.

Shaping the future – challenges and opportunities

In Adelaide, BHP Head of Supply Olympic Dam Nathan Flaman noted the potential challenges of collaboration, specifically around sharing ideas and the implications for intellectual property. However, the series uncovered an agreement among panellists that there has to be a genuine and ongoing culture of collaboration that fosters innovation to ensure the entire industry can continue to thrive.

Delegates at the Perth event.

Yokogawa Australia & New Zealand MD Russell Palmer also commented at the South Australia event that ‘collaboration should be between industries and not just within industry,’ which means taking inspiration from other markets on innovation and also adopting expertise from professionals that may not have a mining-specific background. South Australian Chief Scientist Professor Caroline McMillen also commented that non-mining industries would likely begin to enter the mining sector to help with the move into Industry 4.0.

A sustainable industry in a global context

Increasingly, a major influence on the resources industry is the conversation around sustainability and social licence to operate. Monash University’s Professor Edward Buckingham at the Melbourne Series event encouraged a shift toward using the term ‘social value’ as opposed to ‘social licence’ as the latter implies a restrictive, legalistic approach. Social value implies a focus on ’understanding what the local community wants, how they perceive you’ and the ongoing value the industry is delivering to communities.

Northern Star Executive Manager of Capability & Culture Peta Slocombe says the true integration of this social value is when environmental, social and governance criteria compliance is seen as ‘everybody’s responsibility and part of the culture.’ This also creates a shift where operating with social value in mind is not just an obligation but an aspiration of professionals and organisations.

‘A major influence on the resources industry is the conversation around sustainability and social licence to operate.’

The importance of the Thought Leadership Series

Forums such as AusIMM’s Thought Leaderships Series provide a platform for sharing ideas, challenging current ways of thinking, and most importantly, encouraging collaboration within and across industries. AusIMM has a key role to play in enabling collaboration and being the Trusted Voice of credibility, influence and respect in the resources sector.

Now in its second year, the Thought Leadership Series is firmly established as a forum for leadership and networking, with attendees saying they would be interested in attending future events. It also generated a wide range of interest from the audience in how we can continue the discussion on bringing advancements in science and technology into the resources industry.

AusIMM was pleased to receive support from our Thought Leadership partners BHP, PwC, Monash University, Rio Tinto, IMARC, UNSW, The University of Western Australia, Government of South Australia – Department for Energy and Mining and Northern Star Resources.

Share This Article