The Impending Skills Shortage Epidemic in the Global Mining Industry

8 min read

By Jon Taylor

Principal Consultant

The mining industry has been experiencing a period of relative growth recently. However, with the distribution being heavily weighted towards existing mining ‘superpowers’, smaller companies are still pushing to consolidate their offering in the market. Whichever way you look at it, this creates change and with change comes the need for talent across all facets of the organisation.

I’ve been considering writing an article to address the incoming skills shortage in the mining industry for a while now, with a view of looking at why this exists and how we can counteract it. To do so properly, I have spoken to a number of individuals in the sector, who I have been fortunate to work closely with on their talent sourcing, to get a firsthand perspective of the challenges faced.

What’s led to the skills shortage?

From my research so far, it seems that the first problem starts with the entry level graduates coming through the academic process.

A recent article from ABC states that: 

 

In light of this, I did some digging and it seems that the majority of graduates from a few years ago went into the ''system'' when there was a boom. Due to the cyclical nature of the mining industry, not just in Australia but across the world, by the time their 4 years of study culminated, the industry had lulled. The unfortunate thing is that, when the industry is bottoming at the time these pre-graduates enter the university process, it often turns them away from industry related degrees. Both of the above result in a severe decrease in the amount of graduates leaving university with mining related degree certificates.

Starting a domino effect

If there are not enough graduates and entry level geologists, project staff or engineers, for example, there is already a scramble to secure the services of tomorrow's senior members of the team. Without them, you are either having to ask people to take a step back or asking people to put a proverbial glass ceiling on their aspirations to ''help out'' and stay at the aforementioned level until an adequate replacement is found. This in turn, means that other businesses could tempt them away by offering a role that fulfils their aspirations.

An article from TheWest.com.au last year addresses the beginning of the bell curve that will ultimately see miners across not just Australia, but the world, struggle to attract some of the required skills to run a mine efficiently. With a lack of supply, comes a simultaneous hike in demand from those that do the supplying:

 

 

Whilst this is happening, the middle third and senior management continue their respective tenures. By the time the aforementioned graduate cycle comes around, the middle and senior management are stepping up to General Manager, Managing Director level or even retiring. The Circle of (mining) Life waits for no one...

How this affects the hiring process

Remember the entry level (reporting to Seniors) individuals I mentioned a moment ago? You were probably asking what if they were too experienced to stay at that level when graduates were not coming out of the education system? Well, there is a place for them in this too. They have, from my research, been thrust into roles at Senior-levels before 'their time' was supposed to come.

Now, I'm not saying they wouldn't eventually get there, but some are being put in the situation of being promoted into these roles without the relevant management experience, mentoring and training, just to fill a gap in the hierarchy. I am a huge advocate, as part of my role at CSG, of trying to help people take the next step in their career. I've even, on several occasions, pointed out people internally who seem like they have the skills to do the job instead of looking externally. My job is not to find an external individual for the sake of it, but to find the best suited and most relevant incumbent for the role. Everyone, no matter which industry we talk about, needs to walk before they can run.

So, with the lack of graduates coming from the education system and the hamster wheel of mining continuing to turn regardless, there is a skills shortage emerging in the middle third, that is seemingly unavoidable unless cloning of skilled mining execs becomes a thing in the next 6-9 months.

Developing talent insights

As an additional value added service, my team and I at CSG have developed a number of additional Talent Strategy Services that can stand alone as a tool to prepare for the skills shortage or work alongside a recruitment process to map the market in preparation for your organisation to ''pull the trigger'' with a hiring exercise.

I am happy to discuss this in depth with anyone that reads this as the services are made to be very bespoke depending on the need. However, for context, these Talent Strategy Services we run have already been utilised by juniors, mid tiers and multinationals with assets in Southern Europe, Australia, DRC, Canada, Argentina and Peru, to name a few, in the last 3 months.

The strategy behind this is simple, and not wanting to make this a pitch, but with a pre-prepared list of potential incumbents with the relevant skills and active/passive interest in moving, it will allow you to not only shorten your recruitment process when you are ready, but beat other ''rival'' companies from headhunting the same talent you will undoubtedly be chasing. When they’re just starting their search from scratch, you will have the data already in hand. Clever, right? And these are just two benefits. All we are doing is following the quote;

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail"-  Benjamin Franklin

Plugging future skills gaps

There is one point I feel needs to be addressed about the people unfortunately out of work in our industry. These individuals have the knowledge of the industry, the educational qualifications, and hands on experience. However, these individuals may not match the credentials of the roles on offer. Part of me asks 'Would it not be mutually beneficial to give these people new skills and at least trial them to compensate for any skills shortage there are?' but then there's part of me that also asks 'Is the risk versus reward of production, output, KPIs and ROI to shareholders too high to initiate such a scheme?'

As most of the people that read this blog will come from the mining industry, I'd be interested in hearing which areas you think will be most affected by the skills shortage. Is your company prepared? Or do you think there even is a skills shortage?