Technology, collaboration and millennials

Adrian Heieis, product manager at Riivos, reflects on the three words most spoken at the Future of Mining Americas conference
Technology, collaboration and millennials Technology, collaboration and millennials Technology, collaboration and millennials Technology, collaboration and millennials Technology, collaboration and millennials

Adrian Heieis

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Future of Mining Americas conference in Denver, Colorado, with 250 vendors, miners, executives, and regulators all in attendance.

Across this varied group, three questions dominated the event:

  1. What technologies are you implementing?
  2. Who are you collaborating with?
  3. How can we attract millennials to mining?

Well, as a product manager at a mining technology firm who collaborates with many stakeholders and happens to be a millennial, I thought I'd reflect on these three questions.

New technology in mining is SLOW

There were a variety of opinions at Future of Mining Americas on how to embrace new technology in mining. At opposite ends of the spectrum are the pessimists who see today's technological revolution as a repeat of a fad that came and went in the 90s, and the believers who see what is happening as true innovation.

One of my favourite slides from the conference was Kalev Ruberg's, the CIO of Teck, reminder of the ‘hype cycle' of innovation and technology:

The difference is that the pessimists are focusing on the Trough of Disillusionment and the believers on the Slope of Enlightenment. Although both groups have an important role in technological evolution, I think they're both approaching the problem from the wrong perspective.

One of the many things I've learned working in technology, is that agile implementation is everything. With so much technology to explore in mining, the process to discover, test, and implement ideas must be fast. An idea that I have, and would appreciate to get feedback on in order to further develop, is the concept of the ‘Agile' Hype Cycle. My thinking is that when you compress the time scale (making the cycle agile) you can remove a lot of the inefficiencies throughout the process:

Suddenly, it isn't a question of being a pessimist or a believer, but of being a continuous innovator. In an agile setting, you see a smoothing effect that both saves effort and removes lost opportunity cost. If we can get away from the extensive long-term pilot projects and multi-year studies, I think that we might find the mining industry in a much better position in 10 years.

Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration

One of the things that has always astonished me with the mining industry is how disconnected it is: separated from other industries, individual mining companies distanced from each other, and even within a single mine, operations, technical services, maintenance, and so on all working for their own ‘team'.

Most people felt that competitive edge in mining's future will no longer come from an orebody but rather a strong and collaborative culture. As openness and transparency become increasingly important values, it feels clear that collaborating will not only help mining to innovate and adapt but also gain footing with millennials.

Within the mining industry there are many channels of collaboration that need to be broadened - university to university, university to miner, miner to miner, miner to supplier, supplier to supplier, and so on. We are good at collaborating across borders, for example from universities to miners, but collaborating with peers seems to be extremely difficult. Universities should be working together to develop new curricula, miners to discover new technologies, and suppliers to develop more efficient solutions.

As for external collaboration, we need to get away from the ‘not invented here' mentality and learn from other industries - in both ideas and practices. For example, the rapid deployment and reiterative nature of the technology industry I described earlier.

Ultimately, whether it's within a site, a company, the industry, or the global market, mining needs to get better at collaborating on efforts to ensure we can adapt to a changing world.

What do those damn kids want?

Let's cut right to the chase. What really drives millennials is curiosity. We want to learn, we want to grow, and we want to be a part of change. So, the real question is - what does that mean to the mining industry?

Even though I was at least a decade younger than most attendees at the conference in Denver, the response I got was amazing. I had all sorts of executives and managers coming up to me, asking: "How can my company be interesting to youth? What do we have to do as a company to be attractive to millennials?". This isn't the case for all companies, but many are struggling to get the attention of younger workers and this foreshadows the question at an even bigger scale. How can we get younger people interested in mining?

Let's go back to what drives millennials: curiosity. Before Riivos, I worked for several large mining companies at several sites across North America, and although I loved working for them, I knew I'd never get the experience I would working for a technology company like Riivos. Getting to live in San Francisco was a perk, but the real reason I joined was to be a part of the conversation driving actual change in mining. Today's mining doesn't interest youth, what interests them is what mining could be: robots, machine learning, space, virtual reality… Basically, all the things being discussed at conferences like Future of Mining Americas.

If we're to engage a younger workforce, we need to have them be a part of the discussion -there should be many more than me under the age of 30 at these events. Why not take advantage of millennials' love of social networks, and let your millennials' network do the work for you? When I get to go to a cool conference and share my experience with my network, not only do I get my friends within the industry wanting to work at my company, I also get friends with totally different backgrounds asking about the sorts of careers they could have in mining.

So, if you want to engage millennials, and take advantage of the smart young people that our universities are pumping out, then invite them in and let them be a part of the discussion. They'll be the future of the industry anyway, so why not treat them that way?

This article was originally published on LinkedIn and was republished with permission. To read the full blog post, see here