Engaging the future workforce

What is the future workforce of the mining industry going to look like?
Engaging the future workforce Engaging the future workforce Engaging the future workforce Engaging the future workforce Engaging the future workforce

Getting millennials to engage with mining is a challenge facing the industry.

Nima Sherpa

Education, technology and culture are central to creating a shared future in which mining maintains its place at the cornerstone of the Australian economy and global progress.

It is an exciting time to be in the mining industry. Our work remains as relevant as ever to economies and communities around the world. Opportunities for fulfilling careers that challenge and develop individuals are plentiful. And the cultural change being led by companies such as BHP to improve the sustainability and social value of our activities is inspiring.

Despite this, and despite mining supporting employment for huge numbers of Australians, a 2018 survey by industry group METS Ignited found many of those aged 15 to 20 were not considering joining the mining industry.

Tellingly, only a third viewed the industry as innovative and providing opportunities through its use of leading-edge technology, and nearly two-thirds knew nothing about mining careers at all.

Millennials are often thought of as different or special, and not always in a good way. For some, the statistics above may reinforce the view that the new generation is not cut from the same cloth.

But while there are particular attributes unique to millennials that modern business should understand - for one, the expectation of speedy information sharing driven by digital media - we are not so different from the generations that have gone before and which make up the majority of the current workforce.

Like many, millennials thrive on experiential learning and active collaboration. We want to work in an environment that is challenging and fun, and which innovates through technology. We seek out companies and leaders who are visionary, led by their values and who create a culture that supports people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.

Millennials are bright, hard-working and have a lot to offer. So how do we get them interested in mining?

When considering this challenge, it quickly becomes clear that it isn't unique to millennials. Whatever improvements we make to attract the next generation will do just as much to make our working environments better for everyone - supporting retention of the vast talent and experience we already possess and bringing in talent from other sectors.

There are a number of levers to pull. I'll touch on a few.

Education and awareness

The mining and education sectors have key roles to play, from early learning through to tertiary education.

Industry can come to the table through mentorship and early development programmes to build positive early experiences. Educational institutions - in particular universities and trade schools - can help through identifying future needs and working closely with industry to create a workforce with the necessary skills and experience. A number of organisations are already doing this.

More generally, we can use digital communication to build positive awareness of our industry through word of mouth, and rightly brand mining as an industry that provides wonderful careers and the opportunity to contribute to society. Doing this consistently through cycles will help to ensure future workers are more aware of and receptive to the sector.

Technology and innovation

Technology is symbolic of the industry's challenge and opportunity - a potential disruptor and enabler rolled into one.

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Digital communication has fundamentally changed the way we live. Its primacy in the lives of millennials is a key differentiator with other generations. The concept of ‘glocality' - the idea that global and local considerations exist simultaneously and that values or behaviours can be both common and unique among large groups - is one to which modern business should be able to adapt.

Technology in the mining sector has the potential to move people out of harm's way, increase our efficiency and improve our productivity by allowing us to focus on the things that move the needle.

Advanced technology is genuinely exciting and a key attraction for our sector. Emerging professions in data science and robotics have the potential to attract a new wave of talent to our teams.

Hand in hand with technology goes innovation. Increasing the scope for employees at all levels of an organisation to pursue opportunities for improvement and to lead innovation are keys to instilling a culture of pride and motivation in individuals and teams.

Culture through leadership

Leadership and management remain as crucial to organisational success as ever, especially given the changing nature of our work and personal lives. I have been fortunate to work with leaders who foster learning through a healthy balance of security and discomfort. By challenging their teams to grow and develop while providing structure and flexibility to support lifestyle choices, managers can create high standards and motivate their teams to achieve.

The increasing diversity of the mining workforce is undeniably a strength. BHP's own data shows that our more diverse teams are safer and more productive. A focus on personal relationships, and engaging and understanding all individuals within teams better to harness collective energy will go a long way to building a purposeful culture.

The growing cultural support for initiatives such as flexible working will be critical to future success in mining. More and more people of all ages are seeing the benefits of flexible work enabling them to achieve rewarding careers and spend time with the people and pastimes they love.

Organisations have the chance to set firm foundations for their own future by embracing the opportunity to evolve with generational change.

Innovation, digital transformation, technological advancement, information sharing and burgeoning cultural progress are the norm - and growing. This is indeed an exciting time to be in the mining industry.


Olympic Dam superintendent Nima Sherpa is a self-described millennial. She won the Minerals Council of Australia Exceptional Young Woman in Australian Resources in 2018. This article was originally published by Australia's Mining Monthly.