Building for the Future
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is knocking on the mining industry’s door. Today’s engineers are laying the foundation for delivering tomorrow’s natural resources. It’s an incredible responsibility that affects many people and it must be managed professionally and ethically. The companies that are prepared will prosper financially and they will be rewarded with respect and social acceptance.
World leaders gathered in Davos, Switzerland, during January for the World Economic Forum. Aside from the political propaganda, several sessions discussed globalization, the increasing use of technology and the connected world. While it’s obvious few of these economists have ever set foot in a mine, their concerns could easily be applied to our industry. One of the refrains, globalization and technology advances have failed the working class, can explain much of the political tumult today. Those who despise this globally connected economy see multinational companies as villains sourcing the lowest-cost resources, taking advantage of labor, and plundering with little regard for the environment.
The engineers embracing technology as exceptionally efficient see it differently. They see autonomous production systems that operate more safely with lower costs. The companies that benefit from these advances in technology need to continuously retool and retrain their workforce to maintain their edge. Underground operators witnessed this transformation when mines began running LHDs remotely 20 years ago, and now open-pit mines are operating entire fleets of haul trucks without drivers. Rather than losing that talent pool as this transition evolves, the workforce should be retrained and redeployed. Miners can learn and adapt quickly.
Too many companies fail to explain their long-term goals. The mines and mills that are commissioned today may operate for generations. They are most likely situated in a remote location with a limited amount of human resources. It’s incumbent upon mining companies to create employment opportunities and train their workforce to be the miners of the future. This should be a transparent process and they should promote it. Otherwise, a company risks being branded socially as uncompassionate.
A company’s brand and its message are incredibly important. Innovation will attract investment, which will allow further implementation of technology. This in turn will attract young, clever minds as well as experienced leaders, sustaining the company’s ability to prepare for the next wave, such as artificial intelligence and augmented reality, or whatever the future may hold.
All of this works together. For workers to believe that technology will play a positive role in their future, they need to be included in discussions surrounding the Internet of Things, Big Data and autonomy. It takes time and effort to build a brand. When problems occur, the mining company will not only be judged by how it reacted, but how well its supporters defend it. People can overthrow governments and they can certainly make or break a mining company.
Steve Fiscor, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, E&MJ