Does mining have a gen Z problem?

The generation born between 1997 and 2012 is actively turning its back on mining, despite boundless opportunities, big salaries and great career paths. What do we do now?

On paper, the Australian mining industry should be an attractive option to gen Z. We have boundless opportunities, big salaries and great career paths.

Data released just this month by the Minerals Council of Australia said our industry is “a prolific job creator and wage booster… supporting over 1.1 million jobs and paying the highest average wages at $151,500”, and that “for every one new job created in mining, 6.14 new jobs are created across all industries”.

That might make a career in mining sound like a no-brainer. But when gen Z looks at our industry, they don’t see a wealth of opportunity. The generation born between 1997 and 2012 is actively turning its back on mining.

We’re losing gen Z forever

Here are some worrying stats from the past year.

  • There has been a 63% drop in mining engineering enrolments since 2014 (via McKinsey)
  • A global study found 42% of resources companies struggle to attract and retain gen Z career professionals (from BDO)
  • The same study found just 15% of young people said they would consider pursuing a career in mining.

Clearly, something has gone terribly wrong. For all the upside, the kids just aren’t getting the message about the opportunities that exist in mining. If we can’t turn the situation around, we risk being locked into a permanent crisis mode of skills shortages and ever more costly incentives packages—at least for roles that can’t be filled by automation, AI and robotics.

The big cultural shift

Part of the problem appears to be a cultural shift in what the younger generation wants from their work.

Gen Z is more interested in job security than their millennial predecessors, so mining’s reputation as a boom-bust business won’t be helping.

According to BDO’s research, gen Z also wants careers that are ethical and environmentally responsible.

  • 66% want a career that positively impacts local communities
  • 59% say the impact of their job on the environment is important.

It’s easy to dismiss these considerations as idealistic, but the fact is mining clearly has an image problem with the next generation of our workforce.

Mining’s image problem

In a recent article, Mining News quoted West Virginia University Professor of Mining Vladislav Kecojevic, who summarised the reasons for low mining engineering enrolment numbers like this:

  • Lack of exposure to and knowledge of the modern mining industry
  • Misperceptions that the mining industry is unsafe, unhealthy, damages the environment and contributes to climate change
  • Misperceptions that mining is only about underground coal mining with antiquated picks and shovels
  • Concerns of the lifestyle of mining engineers and a misperception that the industry offers narrow employment opportunities limited to remote or rural locations
  • Misperceptions that the industry is not sustainable
  • Fears that mining does not provide job security
  • Negative portrayals of the mining industry by the media
  • Misperceptions that there are no females in the industry
  • Concerns that the industry is not family friendly.

It’s a list that, I think, equally applies to most other mining jobs, not just engineering enrolments.

What can we do?

The list above isn’t necessarily filled with insurmountable problems.

As an industry, mining has the wealth and means to challenge misperceptions. We can get educational awareness programs into schools, we can make television and YouTube ads, and create content and resources.

At a company level, we can do more to encourage women into the industry, to make our workplaces more family friendly, and to tell the stories of our environmental and social successes.

As individuals, we can all be ambassadors for our industry: talking it up at every opportunity and sharing our passion for what we do. Because, if we don’t talk up mining, who will? But that work must start now, before we lose a whole generation to the industry.

MPI has nearly 30 years’ specialist experience helping mining companies uncover the best candidates for their executive and leadership roles. Find out more about our executive search service here or get in touch directly.

Dan Hatch
Mining People International