After undergoing a crushing downturn, fundamentals have started to improve in the mining industry. Though commodity prices have not rebounded to pre-downturn levels reached in 2011, a rise in spot commodity prices is apparent. Going forward, the key to a sustainable recovery would be to avoid the mistakes of the last boom cycle: enduring high production costs with marginally profitable projects, and subsequently recording large impairments when commodity prices fall.
Following record investments in the sector over the past decade, the need to rapidly expand through construction and expansion has been replaced with the need to be highly productive and efficient. The mining industry severely lags other industries in operating efficiency, which highlights the need to adopt new skills, along with leaner and more productive ways of working, to remain globally competitive.
The mining industry is bracing itself for technological disruption, and we hear the term ‘smart mines’ starting to take hold. New technologies to bolster the sector include software to optimise asset utilisation; smart devices to remotely monitor and control operational activities; and autonomous vehicles to boost efficiency and improve safety. The workforce at the mine sites are also getting equipped with devices such as drones and wearables to improve their productivity and safety.
What is crucial is for the mining sector to recognise that this technological disruption does not mean lesser jobs but more varied roles for which they need to adequately prepare their workforce. This changing dynamic also presents the sector with an opportunity to improve the diversity of their workforce.
Mining companies that genuinely grasp technology and leverage it strategically will reap the most benefits. The difficulty lies in the ability to incorporate engineering excellence with a sense of open-mindedness to adapt to advanced analytics, robotics and other platforms that fundamentally alter decades of operating conventionally. Simply put, this is a matter of behaviour as much as it is about technology.