Article
5 minute read 20 July 2021

The future of work in mining

What will jobs look like in intelligent mining operations?

5 minute read 20 July 2021
Andrew Swart

Andrew Swart

Canada

Janine Nel

Janine Nel

Canada

Talitha Muller

Talitha Muller

South Africa

Jenna Wing

Jenna Wing

United States

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the siloed nature of mining companies and highlighted the need for integrated operations. This is likely to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies, artificial intelligence, and analytics in the mining industry. We examine what future mining jobs will be like in intelligent, integrated operations.

(Originally published June 9, 2020. Updated with new personas, Safety experience architect, Intelligent asset care lead, Specialist rock engineerand Operations SuperTeam lead)

Introduction

The evolution of technology, from advanced data analytics to artificial intelligence (AI), has always had the potential to transform the mining industry by realizing operational efficiency improvements, enhancing productivity, improving safety performance, empowering employees to do more meaningful work, and allowing communities to be more prosperous. Has today’s crisis accelerated that trend?

In recent years, many mining companies have begun their digital journeys toward intelligent operations. Deloitte’s Tracking the trends 2021 report explored the following action points for mining companies to optimize their digital journeys and unlock sustainable value: 

  • Understand the effort required to clean up data and upgrade technology infrastructure 
  • Integrate operations and governance by bringing planning and execution together in a closed loop system and integrating data across the entire value chain 
  • Understand the staffing and skill requirements in moving toward integrated operations centers (i.e., Nerve Centers) 

The future of work in mining is not only about introducing new technologies but also about considering what role these technologies will play and what work will look like in a new organization that imbibes these new technologies. To help guide us in these uncharted territories, it is important to keep the end state in mind: “What outcomes drive value for the business?” These key business drivers can help tailor and redesign the organization to ensure that technology and organizational change empower this future organization, rather than debilitate it. 

To achieve the desired value-driving outcomes, it is imperative to look out several years and understand and design for how humans could interact with the technology and with each other. Companies that have had successful digital journeys so far have often placed significant emphasis on change management to shift people’s behavior and engage with their work in new ways. Mining companies looking to capitalize on these trends will need to consider the future of work as they move toward integrated operations centers (i.e., Nerve Centers) that help guide decision-making across the value chain and reduce siloed behaviors. They should consider what skills and roles are needed to support the Nerve Centers in achieving the desired business outcomes, and whether they will build these capabilities in-house or outsource it to external partners. These organizations will need to consider the desired culture of the teams, defining what success looks like when the culture is in its desired state. The operations culture plan should be developed in line with the objectives that the organization is looking to achieve through its digital goals and vision. 

To support the teams when using digital tools, it is important that principles for decision rights, escalation protocols, and role accountabilities are clearly identified. A transparent and clear understanding as to how each role contributes to the success of the organization provides the best opportunity for teams to tap into the many resources available and the collective situational awareness that this collaborative environment brings. 

The time for change is now

Recently, the global pandemic resulting from the novel COVID-19 virus has seen organizations around the globe change how and where work gets done in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. Energy, resources, and industrial companies are among those facing the biggest constraints in offering flexible working and remote solutions. Some operations have, however, rapidly executed secondary control rooms, equipped with the relevant hardware and network capabilities to allow seamless handover between shifts in two separate locations. Some others have executed work-from-home capabilities by creating “dispatch packs” containing laptops and communication tools, enabling workers to operate and maintain control of on-site activities from the safety of their homes. For those performing essential services and therefore unable to work remotely, operations have focused on providing epidemic protection—ensuring sanitation, personal protective equipment, and safety of the workplace environment. Some others—for instance, those working on-site to support power utilities—have halved their operational efficiency to instil social distancing and other health-related measures. Meanwhile, those who have been unable to effectively mitigate the risk have had to shut down during this time. 

Nobody knows exactly what the impact of these operational lockdowns will be on the industry. But as markets stabilize post the initial COVID-19 shock, organizations are realizing that there is a critical, accelerated need to fundamentally rethink how value is generated and redesign how work gets done. We are now seeing some clients actively revisit technologies such as tele-remote systems, autonomous vehicles, and automation of key areas of their operation. While many of these require significant capital investment at a time when commodity prices have been hit hard, they are weighing this against the increased flexibility and performance improvement this offers in the midst of a crisis. 

Another element driving change in our workforces is the expected decline in the long-term demand for hydrocarbon products and the shift to cleaner energy sources. The global imperative to support decarbonization efforts is forcing organizations to start rethinking the skills and capabilities needed to achieve the net-zero workforce—a sustainable workforce that meets and supports organizations’ net-zero carbonization ambitions.

Now, more than ever before, an integrated operations center has become critical for any mining organization to provide an integrated single source of the truth built on real-time tracking of operational data across the value chain, enhance decision-making through advanced analytics, enable remote management of resources where feasible, manage and track renewable energy demand and storage, and optimize workforce allocation and utilization, among others. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic focused efforts on cost reduction and right-sizing the workforce in the sector, the global agenda for a green recovery has created a sense of urgency to develop and sustain a workforce that’s ready not only to tackle decarbonization challenges and find new opportunities, but to also position companies for a sustainable future.

To help mining clients prepare for this new normal induced by both the pandemic and the growing demand to reduce carbon impacts, we have developed personas for roles we deem important in unlocking the value of intelligent mining enabled through Nerve Centers:

  • Nerve Center orchestrator
  • Nerve Center data scientist
  • Integrated master scheduler
  • Team performance scientist
  • Safety experience architect
  • Intelligent asset care lead
  • Specialist rock engineer
  • Operations SuperTeam lead

To better understand the roles of the individuals who will be interacting with exponential technologies in an intelligent mine, we explore the following different facets of these personas’ profiles: 

  • Future roles and responsibilities within the Nerve Center
  • Skills needed to achieve new work outcomes
  • Relevant digital tools typically associated with intelligent mining and a Nerve Center
  • A glimpse into what a typical day in their lives could look like

One of the hallmarks of these roles of the future is that they’ll likely draw on familiar components of work but put them together in new ways to create a job that’s never been done before. As mining companies continue to progress toward becoming truly intelligent mining organizations, roles will continue to evolve. Understanding how work needs to change to quickly adapt to unforeseen circumstances and leverage technology to ensure more meaningful and safe work can help the industry transform and overcome disruption.

The authors would like to thank the following people from Deloitte Consulting for their contributions to this article: Kristy Delaney and Aparna Burke for their knowledge of operational mining roles, Jessica Sonnekus for her expertise on supervisor roles in the mining sector, and Leani Hanekom and Cassandra Wilding for their passion and insight into behavioral drivers of safety practices. The authors would also like to thank Joanna Lambeas and Meghan Gragtmans for their contributions and Anup Mistry for his endless support and expertise on the mining roles of the future.

Lastly, a special thank you to Tania Nieuwoudt for her contributions in both driving this publication as project manager and contributing as a future of work expert.

Cover image by: Peter Hoey

Deloitte Consulting’s Mining and Metals

Deloitte Consulting’s Mining & Metals practice has helped clients transform to integrated operations through the adoption of digital technologies, artificial intelligence, and analytics solutions. Our future of work assets examine what future mining jobs will look like and enable the fundamental redesign of work, workforce, and workplace. Our work in intelligent mining includes the realization of operational efficiency improvements, enhanced decision-making and productivity, improved safety performance, remote management of resources, and optimization of workforce allocation.

Janine Nel

Janine Nel

Partner, Consulting, Deloitte Canada

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