What's your job's expiry date?

Picture of a robot in space

How do you know your mining job is going to be around for the long term?

A hundred years ago jobs in the mining industry were very different to today. Job titles included Timberman, Popperman and Platelayer – names you won’t hear on site these days.

A Timberman was either a person employed to cut timber for use underground and in the furnaces and condensers or an underground worker placing the timber as supports.  A popper machine was an early style pneumatic drill, and the Popperman was the operator. A Platelayer laid the rail tracks underground.

None of those roles exist now, although some variations of the duties and tasks performed do.

Over the past 100 or so years the industry has gone from manual mining methods to autonomous trucks, trains and drill rigs.

Mechanisation has changed the mining industry

Mechanisation and technology have impacted jobs for more than 250 years.

In the industrial revolution from 1760, when commercial manufacturing first began and goods were built by machine, the naysayers were out in force. What would happen to jobs for people, they asked. Sound familiar? It’s the same now. People are worried about having consistent employment thanks to the impact of automation. But, just as in the past, as jobs and roles have evolved, new roles have been created.

As this article from McKinsey states, in the United States there are three categories of activities that are easy to automate. They are those that involve data collection, data processing, and physical work in highly structured environments. It may not sound like a lot, but in a country like the US, these categories account for some 51 per cent of the economic activity.

RELATED: The future of the mining industry? Robots. Lots of robots.

The same article quotes that about 60 per cent of occupations have approximately a third of their activities that are easily automated. For nearly all workers, the day-to-day tasks of their role will change to some degree in the future. For anyone interested in the future of work, the article is worth a read. 

The impact of automation on the mining industry

We’ve seen the impact of autonomous trucks, trains and drills in open pits – all of which operate in highly structured environments. While many of these personnel have been redeployed, the reality is that job losses will occur.

While it is difficult for even the most talented futurists to predict what will happen to your role, we can all broadly consider what our future may look like.

Ask yourself some of these questions:

  • What portions of your role are in data collection, collation, management and processing?
  • Are parts of your environment predictable and structured?
  • Does your role involve repetitive work and is the environment consistent? While the focus for many companies has been on earth moving, consider laboratories and process plants. Laboratories and sample preparation facilities were some of the first to adopt robotic technology.
  • If you are in an occupation where 30 per cent of your daily tasks could be automated, what can you do to ensure your employment prospects remain positive?

You may also want to consider:

  • How willing are you to change, undertake additional study, change industry or even move to another region?
  • How long do you have left in the workforce?
  • If your role is one that could fall into the category of being automated, what else could you do within your organisation? To guarantee ongoing employment, could you start training now?

RELATED: Your mining retirement checklist

Emotional skills could be the way of the future – even in mining

One key area we can all continue to develop is the skills and attributes AI cannot (yet) replicate. The skills that make us human: empathy and sympathy. The ability to connect emotionally, establish trust and make a person feel like they have been heard and seen.

But even then, if Stephen Hawking’s prediction becomes a reality, it may be too late already!

Want more information on our career guidance? Get in touch with MPi and speak to one of our expert team.

Gail Rogers 
Senior Consultant - Candidate Services & HR Consulting 
Mining People International

Gail worked in operational and technical mine site roles for 15 years and has been with MPi since 2002 in mining recruitment and executive search and eventually mining career guidance and human resources advisory positions. Gail’s 15 years directly in the mining industry, across residential, FIFO and CBD based roles, has given her a unique perspective into the industry.