April 2018

What will be the most significant change in the years ahead for the resources industry?

  • By Kristy Burt

Kwasi Ampofo MAusIMM
Postdoctoral Research Fellow,
University of Queensland

The resources industry will change significantly along three trajectories: diversity, digital disruption and social licence to operate.
Currently, only 15 per cent of key management personnel within Australia’s resources industry is female. This will exceed 30 per cent by 2025. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency reports that about a quarter of the current professionals within the resource industry are women.
This increasing pipeline of talent – coupled with current initiatives by companies, schools and non-profits – will boost diverse workforce participation.
Secondly, digital disruption will deliver at least 20 per cent cost savings by 2025 in the areas of safety, productivity, ore recovery and energy consumption. With declining ore grades and volatile commodity prices, companies will have to grow their assets by focusing on value creation rather than volume. Cost reduction and capital discipline through technological investment will be the main value driver for future projects.
Finally, environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues will be the single most important factor to determine resource project success by 2025. As BlackRock CEO Larry Fink says, ‘society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose.’ As at June 2017, BlackRock held investments valued at £759 million across several mining companies around the world. The resources sector is one of the world’s most socially sensitive industries, and ESG will indeed surface at the fore of corporate governance models sooner than anticipated.

Georgia Manning MAusIMM
Principal, Georgia Manning:
Strategy Planning Approval
Management Review

The increasing role automation is playing, and will continue to play, immediately comes to mind; the impacts of this on environmental management will be significant.
The opportunities that automation brings to the sector are only beginning to be explored. The ability to conduct near real-time monitoring of equipment is likely to facilitate and normalise adaptive environmental management to a degree that we are only beginning to envisage.
We already can see the beginnings of this in real-time dust and noise control, linking real-time air sampling and noise monitoring to mine models, providing a feedback loop to refine mine planning based on known environmental conditions. The data feedback loops will only improve with automation, enabling on-the-go adaptation of mining methodologies and improving the net environmental impact of an operation.
This increased control will also empower mining communities to a greater degree. The wider community has an expectation of increased public disclosure of environmental data. If communities are enabled to integrate
into site management process via real-time feedback, and this feedback is incorporated into mine management, the result can only improve environmental and social impacts. Interested groups can easily network via social media, meaning that these types of processes, once implemented, are likely to become the baseline for new developments. The level of public accountability of all professionals involved in the mining sector will increase to an unprecedented degree.

Michael Tuck MAusIMM
Associate Professor of Mining
Engineering, Federation
University Australia

There are many possible answers to this question, but the introduction of new technologies and systems will represent a quantum shift in the way that the industry will work. Focusing on technology, several changes will need to occur. Changes such as machine automation and further development of automation systems will drive the need for the industry to adapt.
Firstly, the need for operators will diminish whilst the need for technical expertise will increase. What will the overall effect of this be on employment in the industry? Where will these new technically-competent employees be sourced from? Do universities and other educational establishments have the capacity and resources to educate these needs, and will the graduates want to work in the resources industry with demand also coming from other industries?
Secondly, reduced operator employment may impact on the industry’s social licence to operate. Currently, one way of achieving a social licence to operate, especially for local communities, is the employment route – will this be impacted?
Finally, any change will introduce new risks in the industry, including health and safety, financial, sovereign risks, etc. As such, change management is critical to risk amelioration and an important element for all in the industry to understand and implement. This represent a serious challenge.

Alison Keogh MAusIMM(CP)
Chief Executive, CEEC
International Ltd

The resources industry is entering a period of immense change. Rapid population growth in the coming decades will drive global and regional needs for water, food, energy and infrastructure. Society will expect smarter mining with a smaller footprint. Of many significant changes, I’ll touch on my top three.
Firstly, diverse industries such as power, communications, construction, agriculture, transport and water will evolve. Changing technologies and processes will require new materials, products and nano-materials, shifting markets for metals and minerals.
Secondly, breakthroughs in mineral processing will enhance productivity and reduce energy use, water and waste. This will reduce the costs and footprint of operations, including tailings. Finally, new technologies such as AI, sensors and automation will be integrated across sites with powerful new data platforms. We will begin to optimise value in real-time across the value chain. Companies harnessing the power of big data will gain the confidence to embrace innovative approaches that demonstrate business and community value. Our people will be less exposed to high risks and we will be more productive.
As professionals, we have an exciting opportunity to embrace change. We need skilled and visionary leaders to steer collaborative and creative teams. Mining project approvals will require shared approaches that foster trust, mutual support and win-win solutions with communities, regulators and stakeholders. Companies that invest in ideas and a culture that welcomes change will deliver value and thrive.

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