Mining and Society Part 6 – Mining’s relationship with scarce talent

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In June 2021, Swann Group founder, John Murray, presented at the Critical Minerals Association‘s G7 event in Cornwall to discuss the importance of mining to society.  

John highlighted six issues facing mining beyond the immediate challenge of the pandemic. 

In this series of articles, John expands on his G7 presentation and explores those challenges in more detail. Often, he makes suggestions for how we might address them, based on interviews with some of the mining greats and his own experience in the industry. Sometimes he simply poses questions to provoke thought and discussion for inclusion in a future update.

We’ve gathered these articles in a single publication readers can download from the Swann Group website research page

In this last article John explores mining’s need to attract a new generation of talent to plug the current shortfall.

Part 6: The shortfall in mining talent

The emerging talent gap in mining – the result of large swathes of senior leaders retiring, divestments and redundancies forcing emerging leaders into different sectors, and mining firms failing to make the industry attractive to graduates – has been well documented, not least of all in previous reports from the Swann Group. 

The challenge of losing such talent has been further compounded by the failure of our industry to capture the knowledge and expertise of experienced team members before they leave. Semi-retired advisors and consultants help fill the gap, but they can be expensive and are not a permanent solution. 

Those who left the industry during the downturn see little incentive to return to a sector that abandoned them during the downswing of the last commodity cycle. Young talent well versed in the new technologies are more attracted to the cleaner, greener world of IT than an industry they’ve been led to perceive as dirty, destructive and morally questionable. 

However, as mining becomes more technologically driven, these digital natives, currently unknown to the industry, are precisely the talent mining needs, while those with more traditional mining skills become less critical. As we noted in a previous paper (Approaches to Addressing the Mining Skills Gap), Education and Industry must learn to collaborate more effectively to develop the talent our sector will need in future. 

Senior leaders will need to adapt to meet the expectations of Millennials, Generation Z and their successors. It is foolish to treat any one of these generations as a homogenous group, but it is generally true to say they are more informed and vocal about the importance of values, purpose, and work/life balance than their predecessors. Leadership and management styles are likely to have to change as the next generations expect to be consulted and informed, and to receive feedback informally and regularly rather than as part of an annual performance review. 

New forms of development will be needed too as this new talent matures into leaders. The future will see the pace of change accelerate and we will need flexible, smart individuals who will remain effective even if the paradigm has shifted dramatically by the time they reach a leadership position. 

It will take a monumental effort on the part of professional bodies, educators, policy makers and the industry but I believe it is within our grasp. But once we have grappled with the complexities of this collaboration and addressed this fundamental challenge, I believe the next generation of mining leaders will be well-equipped to weather the storms of the future.

Mining and Society – Conclusions

The mining industry is historically slow to adapt. The largest companies have ‘tried and tested’ processes that have served them well for decades, creating a mindset of ‘that’s the way we do things here’ rather than considering how things should be done. 

Mining companies seem to be over reliant on the Big 4 consultancies to do their strategic thinking for them. This means they do not grow this kind of strategic talent internally. As a result, they have access to respected global thinkers but struggle to synthesise or apply what they are told. The mining industry deals with risk but pays scant attention to uncertainty, which is more difficult to assess.

In these most uncertain times, this has to change, and we have seen examples of that happening. 

Amongst all the gloom of the last 12 months or so, positivity can be found in the resilience and adaptability shown by our industry. In the face of the monumental challenge of Covid-19, survival is an achievement. The speed with which mining firms ensured production continued, using national workforces rather than expats subject to travel restrictions for example, is worth celebrating as an example of agility in the sector. 

So, I have no doubt that mining can and will withstand the impact of the trends identified in this report – and any others that will emerge in the coming months and years. But undoubtedly those organisations that anticipate and prepare for them will be best placed to avoid the negative consequences and take advantage of the opportunities which emerge as a result. 

I hope this series of blogs helps catalyse that thinking process for you. 

John Murray, Founder and Advisor, The Swann Group