Moving From Defence to Offence
Using 2020’s digital trends to accelerate mine operating performance
Mining companies have come a long way over the last ten years in adopting technology to stay competitive. The leadership teams of most mining organizations look very different today than they did back then. The new generation of leadership teams have been methodically re-tooling the organizations for the long-term: investing in productivity-enhancing hardware on the front-lines (driverless trucks, smarter equipment) and embracing digital strategies (stronger information systems and rolling out apps across their workforces).
While conversations about commodity prices may persist, many miners and service companies are increasingly looking to build resilience into their organizations and to be ready for the next turn around the corner, whatever direction that may take.
The industry is facing several distinct challenges that we know all too well: skilled labour shortages in critical markets, increased pressure for corporate and supply chain transparency from stakeholders of all kinds and the drive for increased predictability and productivity in our operations. However, beyond the challenges, beneath our feet we can all feel that the mining industry and what it means to be a miner on the front-line (or in the boardroom) is fundamentally changing from what it was a generation ago. Think of the typical mine supervisor or foreman in the 80s or 90s when many of the current mining executives embarked on their career. Flash forward to the new workforce of today representing the future leaders of the industry. Yet within this fundamental shift in what mining is lies the opportunities to reinvent the industry for sustainability over the next generation and beyond.
Reinventing the Core Needs
This starts by moving technology from being an “add on” consideration to our corporate initiatives to a central part of how we sustain our competitive advantage and hit the specific challenges above, head on. It’s time to move from an industry that is playing defence with technology to offense.
Something I came across from the Natural Resources Canada and the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) forecasts the hiring requirements for the mining industry will range from 49,000 to 135,000 workers over the next 10 years. This means senior executives must put an emphasis on attracting younger, millennial workers. That led me to think, what are executives thinking about how to engage their current and future workforce?
Over the years I then realized I have the opportunity to speak with several North American industry executives about how they can make the mining industry more relevant and attractive to the younger millennial workforce and simultaneously attract a greater diversity of candidates. So, I dug deeper to understand how they thought. Battling misperceptions that our industry is unsafe or remote workers may be working in disconnected environments is also central to this theme. The latter is a central theme to the continuous growth of the Canadian mining industry.
Technology Trends are the Key
How are we able to leverage 2020’s technology trends to get on the right side of this? One idea may be to bring app-based engagement platforms into the front-line workforces to encourage positive behaviours, recognize top performers and better communicate hazards and opportunities across crews.
A recent experiment showed a ten-fold increase in positive recognition across the workforce when an app was available to be used by front-line supervisors (in designated areas). Half of the available workforce counts themselves as a part of the millennial generation. They are well-known to crave instant job feedback and they value a sense of belonging. The best way to show them the organization cares is to mirror aspects of how their generation communicates.
What does this look like? Well, it looks like putting a valiant effort in improving information flow, creating a safer work environment and better connecting your front-line workforce to your office. They will begin to sense you value not only them, but the organization as a whole. This, in turn, directly reflects your goal to achieve a stronger communication channel and create a positive communication feedback loop.
Another way to utilize technology trends would be to work with service companies and suppliers to build increased transparency across the value chain. Many mining organizations have realized they can’t just play defence on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environment Social and Governance (ESG) topics but instead must prove they are improving across all facets of operations along with their contractors and suppliers.
Still, reporting on safety, environmental and other CSR themes across the value chain can be difficult. This administrative burden can be felt on all sides, confuse the front-line staff, and lack the timely transparency today’s stakeholders are demanding of us.
Another way to leverage the 2020 digital trends in the Canadian mining industry is to get ahead of this challenge by leveraging a common contractor and supplier management system that can be easily used by mining organizations, their suppliers, and/or contractors alike – in one geographic area.
Step one would be to use the system to house and evaluate the simple things: policies, procedures and basic aspects of their hazard or risk management programs. Step two would allow front-line personnel to share their observations of any CSR, safety or other opportunities risk-free with their employer and across the value chain to build greater transparency on common industry themes in real time. This would help build up an industry-level data set to not only develop stats in real time (with no admin work) but also share opportunities for improvement to improve productivity (and reduce risk) across the entire value chain.
Never before has software in particular been so powerful at transforming entire industries. The Canadian mining industry has come a long way in incorporating technology into its operating model. It’s time to put easy-to-use tech into the hands of the people who use it the most in order to drive the digital transformations that will help define the success of the industry for the next generation: the front-line workforce. Carefully selected digital initiatives can “hit a few birds with one stone” and push the technology stance from one of defence to one of offense.
About the Author
Adrian Bartha is the Founder of eCompliance and President of the North American arm of Alcumus. Previously, Adrian was an investment professional for a $5 billion private equity firm investing in energy and infrastructure projects across North America and a management consultant with McKinsey & Company in the United States serving Fortune 500 companies and government leaders. Combining his background in finance with his knowledge of health and safety, Adrian has begun educating professionals on how to demonstrate a return on safety, using language to resonate with high level executives, and how continuous improvement can be leveraged as a competitive advantage. He is a graduate of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.