What’s behind mining’s talent problem?

MINING has got an enduring image problem. No matter the reams of glossy sustainability reports it generates every year, mining remains firmly unloved – especially among the next generation.

A report by Canada’s Mining Industry Resources Council in 2020 found that 70% of 15 to 30 year-olds said they would “probably or definitely not consider” working in mining. Asked about jobs in high-tech, this cohort were far less disaffected: only a third said they weren’t interested.

These views will hurt the sector financially. Two-thirds of mining bosses in PwC’s Annual Global CEO Survey said a skills shortage would “heavily” diminish sector profits in ten years. “The talent shortage is becoming a nearly existential challenge,” the auditing firm said in another report, ‘Mine’, published in June.

So what is it that puts the youth off mining? An obvious reason is mining’s poor human rights record. It is also invasive, even though its footprint accounts for 0.04% of habitable land – less than all the world’s pubs.

Another critically important factor that comes into play is the lack of diversity in the sector, especially in gender where only 14% of jobs are held by women, according to a report by the International Labour Organisation. Work in the sector is often remote and uncomfortable.

Two other long term issues flow from the talent dearth. One is that it is harder to adopt new technology without the people to drive the process. Second, mining is missing out on a major productivity boon in its failure to bring in more female employment.

In its Mine report, PwC cites research conducted by BHP showed that teams composed of both men and women were more productive and more engaged, and that they operated more safely. “Such teams delivered an average of 67% lower total recordable-injury frequency and saw improved company culture, with a 21% greater sense of company pride, than teams composed solely of men,” the auditing firm said.

Improving working conditions to allow for women is a key means of attracting and retaining new talent to mining firms. According to a report by McKinsey & Co, employees stay in jobs for many other reasons beside compensation. In addition to pay, “unsupportive colleagues” ranks among the top six reasons people leave the sector.

“The talent problem is complex, and there are no straightforward solutions,” said PwC. “Nevertheless, miners must act quickly to avoid the long-term consequences of a growing shortfall in skills,” it said.