Poll: Workers at mining's coalface fear job automation


New data from the MPi Polling Centre shows mine workers more worried about automation than a year ago.

Last month’s poll conducted via the Mining People Polling/Media Centre asked the question:

How do you feel about the impact of increasing automation throughout the mining industry?

We received an excellent response, with 640 individual votes cast as follows:

I am somewhat worried/concerned    258 40.31%
I am excited/optimistic     226 41.56%
I really don’t have a strong view either way 116 18.13%

What has changed in 12 months?

We asked the industry the same question 12 months ago. But given that significantly more is being written about industry automation and its impact on mining jobs in recent times, we were keen to know if that publicity is causing people’s views to change.

Here are the results from a year ago, when we had 374 votes cast:

I am somewhat worried/concerned    131 35.03%
I am excited/optimistic     176 47.06%
I really don’t have a strong view either way 67 17.91%

As we can see, over the past 12 months the percentage of people declaring some concern has gone up, with those expressing optimism reducing by the same amount.

The proportion of those who don’t have a strong view was unchanged at a relatively low 18%.

Supervisors and managers versus frontline mine workers

As we reported recently, our new polling software enables us to analyse voters according to other factors, and as such we grouped the results according to voter seniority. This is where things get a bit more revealing.

There was a good sample of each group who responded as follows:

Of the 272 mining supervisors/managers who responded:

I am somewhat worried/concerned    90 33.09%
I am excited/optimistic     142 52.21%
I really don’t have a strong view either way 40 14.70%

Of the 368 non-supervisors/managers who responded:

I am somewhat worried/concerned    168 45.65%
I am excited/optimistic     124 33.70%
I really don’t have a strong view either way 76 20.65%

RELATED: How is mining automation affecting job prospects

Our summary of our mining industry automation survey

The fear element in those who are not supervisors and managers is quite a bit higher than the rest. This makes sense when you consider that, at this stage at least, most of the jobs that have been talked about as being ripe for replacement with automation are focused on the operation of mobile equipment.

There is also a growing amount of commentary at the moment reporting that skills shortages in certain technical mining disciplines are coming. It has been suggested this is true for mainly technically trained people, who are usually the first drawn upon to fill management roles. Perhaps those people see the demand/supply equation for candidates in their field will continue to be in their favour, resulting in them being less concerned by the “threat” of resource industry automation?

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Overall the fear element would seem to be increasing in recent times. This might also be supported by initial voting in our current live poll, which is gathering votes on the mining industry’s view of casual jobs. Early votes there seem to suggest there is a strong negative feeling towards them. We’d love to get your contribution to that important survey as well. Vote here.

RELATED: New automated jobs: did mining just get cool?

Our view on mining automation (for the record)

As professionals who sit in the middle of the demand and supply equation (and have done so for more than two decades) we think the fear is overblown. We think it is being caused by a number of factors, namely:

  1. The rate of take-up of automation in mining won’t occur as quickly as employees might be expecting it to occur. Things rarely change overnight, despite the hype.
  2. Negativity towards the mining sector in recent years has caused considerably reduced numbers of people training for mining-related careers and, as a result, we will soon again likely begin to experience some structural skill shortages. This will mitigate some of the job losses that may come from automation. This has been well reported recently.
  3. As has also been widely reported, yes, some jobs will disappear, but interesting new ones will be created as well.

We think, collectively, these things will contribute to the demand for people changing for sure, but it might not contribute much at all to that demand going away.

Once again, if you would like to contribute to our latest poll, please take part here.

If you are looking for deep insights into the mining markets and would like MPi to conduct some targeted industry research on your behalf, then please email us.

Steve Heather signature
Steve Heather – BAppSc (Mining Engineering) WASM, FRCSA

Managing Director & Principal Executive Search - Mining People International (MPi)

Fellow/National Board Member – Recruitment, Consulting & Staffing Association Aust. & N.Z. (RCSA)

[email protected]