Mining People Matters

Steve Heather

Steve Heather, Managing Director and Co-founder of Mining People International (MPi).

Sometimes you've just had a gutful of being kicked!

True or false written on paper

Both mining and recruitment industries attract a lot of negativity. Here's what we can do about it. #leadership

Both the recruitment and mining industries regularly get Mount Everest amounts of negativity dumped on them — by the media and in the court of public opinion. Running a business that straddles both recruiting and mining, I can see some parallels between these two industries and I think there are things each side could learn from the other.

Recruitment is regularly in the news for all the wrong reasons. (Note I’ve avoided using the term “fake news” here — although I suppose I now have). We get a kicking for supposedly supporting all manner of nastiness towards jobseekers, the illegal use of various visas, underpaying foreign workers, exploiting the vulnerable and promoting “insecure work” (whatever that is).

But I’m also privileged to be a national board member of the Recruitment and Consulting Services Association (RCSA) of Australia and New Zealand and to sit on the Audit and Risk and Service Delivery Standards committees. So, I can say emphatically that this negativity is fake news. The impression being created is simply wrong. Sure, there are a small number of rogue operators but my experience is that there are many more rogue company employers than there are rogue recruitment operators.

The real story (but it’s a dull one and therefore not newsworthy) is that jobseekers are often in a difficult transition from one job to another or in a period of emotional and financial hardship because they don’t have a job.

When one person gets the job, the other 10 who applied didn’t. When you think about it, recruitment is one of very few industries that is almost hard-wired to disappoint someone, every single time it succeeds in doing its job. This is despite what I see as the amazing work done every day by recruiters, to try to help jobseekers.      

So, where does mining fit in here?

As a trained mining engineer and an ex-mining industry operations manager, I have always been disappointed by the negativity directed at the mining industry when it provides so much of the world’s wealth. It seems there is an anger about the money made by mining companies and unfair negative impressions like the screwing of suppliers, dodging of tax, poor safety and so on.

In my experience, most of this is also simply not true — but it makes for a great read.

You could understand this coming from uninformed people who perhaps win when the mining industry loses, but what shocks me is when the Premier of Australia’s largest resource state, Western Australia, comes out swinging at the industry only two weeks into his new job. Really… from our new Premier? With the election over and having won it, you’d think someone new in the job would start by reaching out to the most important industries in the state and going on a bit of a listening tour. Why not start with “look we haven’t always got on well; mining is on the nose; politics are on the nose; the state is going broke — how can we fix this together?”

But alas, no — we just get more political point scoring and time wasting.

So, between the recruitment industry and the mining industry, it feels like we are constantly the bad kids waiting outside the headmaster’s office to get the cane for being naughty.

Change the message; use our reach

Having now had my big whine, I have to admit I don’t see an easy solution. However, there is a simple one and it is similar for both industries. From my viewpoint both sectors suffer an image problem that is the result of very poor salesmanship. From where I sit (and this is my opinion) here are some positive messages we should be promoting:

  • Both industries exhibit high levels of care for their employees and invest heavily in training.
  • Both have excellent diversity programs and try hard to accommodate minorities as much as possible — and this is not always easy. As a recruiter, I observe many more end employers exhibiting discrimination and biases towards minorities than I do in professional recruitment firms.
  • The focus on safety in both industries is known to be world class. I walk around our city and see building sites (which are almost all unionised) and see some incredibly unsafe practises that would cause a mine to be shut down. I know where I would feel safest.
  • Lastly, both mining and recruitment have been incredibly quick adopters (and, in fact, developers — in the case of the mining industry) of new technologies. Amazingly, this creates more negative news than positive. It’s the old “machines stealing people’s jobs” story.

The positive message from recruitment and mining

I could go on, but all these positives are meaningless because they are ‘not’ the perception of the public and this is where these two industries have fallen behind badly. Perhaps leaders in both industries could accept that they are so big that:

  • In the case of mining, they are the largest investors of capital and creators of GDP in Australia but, truthfully, are not such a dominant employer.
  • In the case of recruitment, the industry is now easily the biggest single provider of temporary labour — with millions of people employed if the industry is counted as a group.

These facts provide the sectors with great reach and, at the same time, make them easy targets for negativity.

In a world where “news” travels so fast, “clickbait” headlines are as important a feature for news stories as the reporting itself — and both of these sectors have simply not kept up with the new paradigm. We sell poorly. We sell slowly. And we’re left to defend and react, rather than being on the front foot.

Much more time needs to be spent on advocacy — not just with politicians but with the public directly, too. Cut the middle guys out and write our own stories and our own headlines. 

What’s the solution?

Last month I wrote an article that received an enormous amount of feedback. I posted a summary of my thoughts and a thank you with some clues as to what might be needed. You can read more here... It’s time to band together as industries and create our own news.

The recruitment sector has started this journey with an increased advocacy presence and increased social media management. Unfortunately, though, we don’t have the same money as the unions (who are able to push their “insecure work is bad” agenda).

It strikes me that the large Australian resources-related industry associations (Chamber of Minerals and Energy, Minerals Council of Australia, AMEC, etc, as well as the numerous state-based associations) should all get together, combine resources, and forge some sort of permanent alliance to create a positive, proactive, messaging service to tell the real stories directly. I emphasise the word “permanent” — not a ‘fighting fund’ or an ‘alliance’ set up to defend one issue, but an ongoing unit to promote the industry. 

Some will say this has been tried, some will say there is already an “association of mining associations”, but if we are going to get away from being beaten up constantly, then we need to get on the front foot. Each of these groups still need to retain their unique advocacy missions, aimed at their own membership bases, but as a collective we could be regularly putting our own good news out there and making some of our own headlines, rather than just reacting to those written by someone else.

Yes, we need to write our own headlines!

For the cynics who say this is crass salesmanship, I say this is now the way of the world. Most large organisations have their own “newsroom” and employ journalists, so why can’t an industry as big as mining get together and do the same? One thing is for sure — if we wait for the politicians to start saying nice things about us we will die waiting.

Steve Heather FRCSA
Managing Director & Principal Executive Search 
Mining People International
steve.heather@miningpeople.com.au
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)

Steve.heather@miningpeople.com.au