New data shows it’s time to invest in intergenerational training

supervisor at open pit mine

New data paints a stark warning on the lack of intergenerational training in mining. Mining is letting the skills it needs slip through its fingers.

Anyone working in mining today will tell you the industry is experiencing a real skills shortage, which is having very real consequences in the day-to-day operations of mines and projects.

 

But is the industry making the skills shortage worse in the way it handles, nurtures and shares the skills it already has? Are we letting the skills we need slip through our fingers as experienced employees leave and no-one is trained up to replace them?

 

That was the premise behind the latest poll gathered by Mining People. During August 2020 we asked people to agree or disagree with a number of statements about mining and skills. More than 250 people responded.

 

The results paint a very clear picture of what people working at the coalface are thinking and experiencing — and perhaps provide industry and mining companies with insights into how we might best solve the shortage we’re currently experiencing.

Attracting and retaining technological skills

 

The first two questions we asked were about the industry’s ability to attract and retain people with appropriate technological skills.

 

The mining industry is struggling to attract people with the right technological skills.

 

  • Agree: 74.1%
  • Disagree: 25.9%.

 

The mining industry is struggling to retain people with the right technological skills.

 

  • Agree: 81.67%
  • Disagree: 18.33%.

 

These figures paint a grim picture. They suggest the skills we need to run successful operations are ebbing away faster than we can replace them.

 

This is borne out when you look at the responses to some of our other statements.

The generational skills gap

We weren’t sure what response we’d get to some of the statements we made, but we were interested in intergenerational skills transfer. That is to say, whether skills were being handed down from one generation to the next.

 

The results are not encouraging.

 

Two-thirds of respondents agreed that the older generation of workers were often the only people with knowledge of how certain systems worked. Which is perhaps why we see worrying responses like these:

 

I have seen a skills gap form at a company/site because an experienced person retired/left and no-one had been trained up to replace them.

 

  • Agree: 80.5%
  • Disagree: 19.5%.

 

I have seen my company/site lose a wealth of technical knowledge when an older employee has retired/left.

 

  • Agree: 77.3%
  • Disagree: 22.7%.

 

These data points are a huge worry — and surely a clear indication of management failure to identify key-person reliance vulnerabilities. Where is the planning?

So, here’s the good news

 

But the news is not all bad. In some workplaces, skills are being shared and passed on. And where that’s happening, it appears to be working.

 

My company uses its experienced, older generation of miners to train the next generation coming through.

 

  • Agree: 51.4%
  • Disagree: 48.6%.

 

(OK, I admit painting this as positive is very much a rose-coloured glasses take on this data, BUT it does indicate some intergenerational training is happening in the industry.)

 

I have seen the smooth transition from one generation of miner to another when an experienced miner has left a highly skilled position requiring specialist knowledge.

 

  • Agree: 53%
  • Disagree: 47%.

 

(Even better, this data point indicates that where intergenerational skills transfer is happening, it’s working.)

 

I was given the opportunity to learn from an experienced person when I got my start in mining.

 

  • Agree: 70%
  • Disagree: 30%.

Who took part in the study?

 

That last data point stood out to us. Why did so many of our respondents have the opportunity to learn from an experienced person, yet the overall picture we’re getting is of an industry that isn’t taking advantage of intergenerational skills sharing?

 

Perhaps the answer lies in the people who took part in the poll? It was certainly a fascinating mix — with 55% of respondents having been in the industry for more than 10 years and almost another four per cent now retired. Eighteen per cent had been in the industry less than five years and just over 11 per cent between six and 10 years.

 

Let’s take the data from those who said they’d been in the industry longer than 10 years, and compare it to those who have joined the industry more recently, to get an idea of the intergenerational training trends in mining over the years.

 

I was given the opportunity to learn from an experienced person when I got my start in mining.

 

  • 1 – 5 years in the industry who agree: 15%
  • 6 – 10 years who agree: 10%
  • 10+ years who agree: 60%.

 

Stark, isn’t it?

Where to from here for the mining industry?

 

The skills shortage that is already biting in our industry is set to get worse before it gets better. Yet we have it in our hands to ease the skills pressure before we lock in the kinds of supply-and-demand-led economic consequences the last skills shortage battered the industry with.

 

Reducing key-person reliance by investing in training — by using our most skilled and valuable employees to train the next generation — is an investment not just in a company’s future but in the industry’s as a whole.

 

It’s time to start training!

 

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.

Dan Hatch
Mining People International