Following a period of strong economic headwinds, there are signs that the mining industry may be returning to a period of growth.
According to employment website SEEK, the number of mining and resources roles advertised in the three months to April is 70 per cent higher than the same period in 2016. IPOs are also up on the previous year, and EY has reported a rebound in purchases of heavy mining equipment.
As cautious optimism returns to our industry, there will likewise be greater opportunities to recruit new talent and improve on current practices to foster the development of minerals professionals.
By ensuring that we embed a strategic and long-term view of the benefits of diversity and inclusion, the minerals industry will be better placed to meet skills demands of the coming decade.
Traditionally, lifting participation of underrepresented groups in the mining industry has been viewed primarily through the lens of increasing diversity. Increasing diversity meant increasing the numbers of professionals from different demographic groupings as an end in itself.
Recently, the conversation regarding talent has moved forward to encompass inclusion as well as diversity. The priority now is to ensure that the mining industry offers opportunities to participate in a meaningful way. That is, an inclusive working environment is one where everyone, regardless of gender, physical ability, religious beliefs, sexual preference or ethnicity feels valued and can make a meaningful impact to the organisation’s success.
Creating inclusive workplaces means having the important conversations about removing barriers to participation. In this regard the AusIMM Women in Mining Network (WIMnet) has, and will continue to have, an important role. WIMnet have strongly advocated the importance of mentoring and targeted professional development, as well as the importance of workplace flexibility and child care. My own experience through fly in, fly out and residential roles is that many of my (female) peers went on to have families, which impacted their career mobility. Where possible it is important to find creative and innovative work-life strategies that recognise the role of carers and facilitate professional career advancement.
The ability to provide work-life strategies will be particularly important as younger professionals move into the mining industry. Approximately 40 per cent of the AusIMM is aged between 20 and 40. It is likely that the incoming generation of leaders will have different priorities and expectations regarding working arrangements and young families than the current generation. We need to consider a range of flexible arrangements or risk losing highly-skilled professionals, who may take transferable technical skills to other industries.
At the same time, our older professionals are retiring later and seeking to remain engaged in the workplace longer. We need to recognise that these individuals are the best ambassadors and mentors for our industry. Later in life, it has been my personal privilege and a benefit to the business to be able to offer more flexible working arrangements that have enabled some of my older colleagues to come back to work. Older workers can draw on a significant pool of technical experience to advise younger professionals, whose exposure to problems may be limited to academic or digitised ‘schematic’ understandings.
To make the most of intergenerational knowledge transfer, we need to ensure that we provide professionals of all ages with digital literacy training. In an industry that is increasingly being disrupted by automation and algorithm-driven decision making, digital literacy will also enable members to work collaboratively with professionals from other disciplines, such as programming and analytics.
As well as being exposed to an ever-broadening array of disciplines, our members often find themselves in remote and regional locations across the world. Finding ways to better collaborate with overseas colleagues, and ensuring that engagement of the local workforce is meaningful and sustainable, has also become a significant priority for our industry, both for economic reasons and to maintain our social licence to operate.
The mining industry has not always been welcoming for everyone. As professionals who strive to uphold standards in the industry and wish to maintain its excellence, fostering inclusion in our own organisations will be key to remaining competitive in the long term.