Mining industry called upon to bring innovators to the sector
The mining industry can do more to ensure the best and the brightest innovators are attracted to the sector, harnessing social media and promoting exciting and challenging career opportunities. That was the overriding message conveyed during a robust panel discussion from a cross-section of mining experts held on the sidelines of day two of the Diggers & Dealers Mining Forum in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.
Western Australia, home to the world's single biggest source of iron ore and accounting for 70 per cent of the nearly 300 tonnes of gold mined annually in Australia, directly accounts for 55,000 mining jobs.
Julie Harrison, a partner of Deloitte, which sponsored the hour-long early morning discussion attended by more than 50 Diggers & Dealers delegates, identified a need to dispel the notion that mining was a cyclical "boom and bust" industry.
Recent reports indicate that the number of students enrolled in mining-related professions, such as mining engineering, is in decline. There are even suggestions that if the mining industry improves much further, there will be insufficient new graduates to fill all the new positions required, hampering development of new projects.
"We're not loud enough about innovation in mining," Ms Harrison said.
Cannings Purple managing director Warrick Hazeldine, an expert in media relations, implored miners to better engage with mainstream media to counter inaccurate images of irresponsible environmental practices and old-world workplaces.
"It's quite simple. If you don't tell your story, no one will," Mr Hazeldine said.
Offering an international perspective, Kate Somerville, vice president of mining for South Africa-based Gold Fields Ltd, said operating in many African countries and in South America, highlighted the impact of conducting business in step with a strong social license.
Environmental stewardship and responsible community relations were paramount to maintaining a positive business image, according to Ms Somerville.
Last year alone, Gold Fields returned $2.6 billion to communities where it operates.
Each of the panelists also identified a need to expose youngsters to the achievements and opportunities in mining.
Stuart Tonkin, chief executive officer of Northern Star Resources, one of Australia's biggest gold mining companies, told of being introduced to mining during a high school field trip the the Western Australian goldfields.
"After four days I was hooked," Mr Tonkin said.
As mining increasingly keeps pace with robotics and artificial intelligence, it was important to remind potential new entrants that mining remained a business that extracted minerals that were used to improve living conditions in both emerging and modern-day communities. And while automation was eliminating some traditional mining jobs, it was simultaneously creating new ones.
"Don't teach old dogs new tricks," said Mr Tonkin. "If we continue to try and teach people old tricks, we're not innovating anything."
Mr Hazeldine called on industry leaders to take on instructive roles for young minds.
"You have to play the long game," you start at the bottom," he said. "By the age of 12 every child should have visited a mine site."