The mining leaders of today have a huge role to play in preparing the next generation of leaders for smart mine technology. Our industry depends on it.
What’s coming down the mining technology highway at us and how should our leaders prepare for the inevitable changes that will bring?
Let’s look briefly at some examples.
In geology, it’s plausible there will be a machine that can scan a piece of core and identify all the minerals and elements inside it, thus removing the need for a core logging geologist.
Increased demand for boutique commodities could see prices climb. Coupled with technology driving down costs, this could see lower grade deposits — and those deeper in the Earth’s subsurface and in more remote locations — become economic to mine.
And as our licence to operate becomes inexorably hitched to keeping our environmental footprint as modest as possible, and the costs of transporting people from population centres to operating mines continue to increase, more and more people will work from home or from corporate offices.
There will surely be other changes we cannot yet see, but I would argue these examples are well within sight now and that should be enough to trigger big changes on their own. With this in mind, I asked our senior recruitment and executive search leaders, what they think the mining leaders of tomorrow will look like. Their comments were fascinating.
A high level of willingness to embrace change will be among the most valuable qualities of the next generation of mining industry leaders.
That’s not to say the current crop of leaders (or indeed past crops) have been resistant to technological progress, but the technology coming at us all in the immediate and near future has the potential to wildly transform our industry (and what we think of as “mining jobs”).
Any future leader who doesn’t have a solid working knowledge of the technology available to them could be left behind — and so could their companies and projects.
If you don’t have the knowledge, then a high level of self-awareness will be essential to recognise that and buy the knowledge in quickly.
The role of the board
Boards have a critical responsibility here to ensure no single senior leader — CEO or other — has the ability to stifle innovation by not recognising their own lack of knowledge.
The preparation must start now if we want our industry to be ready — and that means those of us already in leadership positions must start laying some groundwork.
The march towards smart mining will need smart humans
We all know (or at least we all should know) that “smart mines” — mines that use highly advanced technology, automation and artificial intelligence to exploit assets as safely and efficiently as possible — are set to revolutionise the kinds of jobs available in our industry and the skills needed to do them.
Humans are evolving too
We also know technology on its own won’t be able to do everything. That still requires someone with specialist skills — so smart humans are still required to operate smart mines.
But it also means that for the mining leaders of the future it will be absolutely vital to understand how to harness that technology and contextualise, interpret and use the data it generates — and to know how to lead a team that can.
We’re going to need more people who are experts in robotics, data analysis, computer science, and other highly skilled specialist fields. As an industry, we’re going to be competing with the likes of Google and Apple for the very best people.
I know this is one of my most well-worn records, but we’re going to have to start selling the idea far more purposefully and convincingly than we have until now, that a career in mining can be exciting, rewarding and challenging.
We need to attract bright young minds who might otherwise drift towards the tech industry, medicine or finance. We need to start thinking about how we do that now, lest we create a massive challenge for the generation of leaders who follow us.
And this is where EQ as a core skill comes into its own
As we attract more of these experts, the challenge for future mining industry leaders will be to develop leadership, engagement and management skills that can transcend physical workstations or mine sites. They’ll need to understand how to lead teams that may be located in very diverse places.
Many of these new people will have IQs, in the traditional sense, that are significantly higher than the CEO. This is where we see many current leaders struggling and this is where the board needs to step up and request a clearly demonstrated innovation strategy. If the CEO doesn’t have one, you probably have the wrong CEO.
In summary, preparing for the future starts now
Smart mines are almost with us. Automation and AI are increasingly becoming a reality on many mine sites. In the near future, smart mines will be a combination of both amazing tech and amazing people — so today’s leaders will grow and develop with them.
As today’s leaders, we need to continue developing our leadership styles and ensure our thinking remains agile. We need to develop a level of comfort with the changes this new technology brings (so neither the adoption of it, nor resistance to it, is driven by fear) and we need to have a greater understanding of how it can be incorporated into our operations for the better.
But while we’re all learning to be agile and embracing change, we also need to ensure we’re creating the building blocks of a strong future for both our industry and our companies.
The great leaders of today must seek out the great leaders of tomorrow and give them jobs and opportunities, help them to shed conventional views and embrace innovation and be agile, and give them the best possible chance of being the exact sort of leader our industry will need well into the future.