With confidence in mining reaching a high point for the first time in 5 years, price growth is on the rise, despite increased caution regarding technology and automation. Representing a skills gap in technically-trained employees – and the vast potential of technology for innovation in mining – automation remains both a threat and an opportunity for the sector.
This key finding comes from the "Mining Business Outlook Report 2017-18", which features interviews with 50 mining leaders across key commodities. Each year, the Report canvasses the current outlook, challenges and opportunities across the mining industry – and this year reveals strong signs of revival for Australia's mining sector. However, the industry is not without its difficulties, with sentiment also showing that mining leaders are now grappling with ongoing skills shortages and cost pressures.
Renewed hope for the future, but weary of market consolidation
The number of miners showing cautious optimism has jumped 55 per cent since 2015, with almost three-quarters of leaders showing renewed confidence in the sector's growth. However, over one-third of leaders are concerned about the potentially adverse financial impacts of market consolidation and M&A activity, making some companies reluctant to form new partnerships.
As companies continue to look for high quality resource projects across the globe, and as market consolidation continues across geographical borders, Australian miners have been urged to embrace strategic partnerships to retain a competitive edge.
Automation a gamechanger
Automation and Big Data are high on the agenda for mining leaders. There is a strong consensus that automated haulage vehicles will be the top technology influence to impact the market over the coming year, with 21 per cent of respondents believing automated haulage vehicles will be the top technology influence to impact the marker over the coming year. Another key area of technology investment is drones, which are increasingly being used to map, survey and explore mines across the country.
Speaking in an exclusive interview for the Report, Western Australia's Mines and Petroleum Minister, The Hon. Bill Johnston MLA, the Minister expands on the significance of automation in mining – and the impact of this on a national scale. "With the use of autonomous vehicles around the world in other sectors, we now have an opportunity to automate and innovate to help grow Australia's mining sector and boost the Australian economy."
Digital era creates skills gap
While companies are back in the industry of hiring, the rise of automation is threatening job security. Miners are now concerned about the Gig Economy and the growing gap in the number of technical employees trained to manage future autonomous roles, particularly in the areas of technology and automation.
Many companies of various sizes voiced concern over a widening skills gap, giving way to a pressing need to upskill and re-train the workforce. Miners must be able to meet the new digital demands of Australia's mining future. Rio Tinto is a prime example of a company leading the field in this area, having recently partnered with the WA Government and TAFE Australia to provide vocational training in robotics for mining workers. The government should follow Rio Tinto's lead to close this growing skills gap, which is occurring because of technology disruption.
Zane Prickett, Director of Unearthed Solutions, echoes this sentiment, suggesting that Australia needs to be faster in adopting new and forward-thinking approaches to technology.
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