The future of mining is safe, it's clean, it's environmentally sound and it is well-paying. That's the message the mining industry needs to put out on the job market, said Jason Bubba, the chief operating officer at NORCAT
Bubba was one of the many speakers at the Maintenance, Engineering and Mine Operators Conference in Sudbury this week, where part of the focus was discussing workforce strategies aimed at attracting more people to the mining industry.
Bubba quoted from the Canadian Mining Industry Human Resources Council, which spoke to the need for more skilled workers.
Bubba said a new study has forecast "a significant labour market shortage that we're experiencing right now, but also cites the skills and competencies required are dramatically changing as the industry continues to adopt and deploy new technologies and mechanized equipment."
A perfect storm
Bubba said the mining industry in Canada is experiencing "a perfect storm" from the human resources point of view.
"The labour market shortage combined with the new technology skills offsets really brings a combination and almost a perfect storm, where we need new folks to do complicated tasks and our existing workforce need to be upskilled."
Bubba said one of the concerns for recruiters is that mining has a less-than-ideal image.
"To this day, mining still has that negative stigma attached to it in terms of understanding what a career in mining looks like. And as an industry, we must continuously work to change this perception and educate our youth as to what a modern mine really is all about and the benefits the mining industry has on our everyday life."
He said when it comes to career planning, many young people don't even think about the mining industry. Bubba said he recently attended a conference in Nevada where information was shared about the problems of attracting more young people to mining.
"The number one issue was that long-time stigma that mining is dirty and dangerous work." Bubba said the industry needs to get the word out that the future of mining is much safer, cleaner and more environmentally friendly than ever before.
"The ways and means in which we mine are much cleaner, much more automated, much safer, more environmentally friendly than it ever has been before. We really need to tell these stories to our youth, educate them that our mines are great places to work, that their daily activities can make a real impact in the world around them."
Bubba said mining employers need to create a sense of excitement for new workers about the things they do and that their career is interesting, with potential for improvement and doing newer things.
"According to a 2021 Gallup survey performed for Amazon, the majority of workers aged 18 to 24 rated learning new skills as the third most important perk when evaluating new job opportunities," Bubba said.
Bubba said improved training and learning technologies are essential now, especially in the post-pandemic era where there will be people learning remotely and in different venues, using such things as AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) systems.
"With modern learning and development tools, we can reach remote workers, and engage them and experiential hands-on training remotely," he said.
Bubba outlined how NORCAT uses animated video presentations as part of the training regimen for miners being trained on mining vehicles.
“By using these advanced learning technologies, we can keep production equipment in the field. We can eliminate fuel costs associated with bringing the equipment into training centers. Wear and tear on that equipment is avoided. And then we can train the workers in scenarios that aren't even possible to train in real life."
In one of the demonstration videos provided during Bubba's presentation, a pair of "hands" operated by remote sensors work on an electrical panel, connecting appropriate wires to a fire alarm system. The remote hands demonstrate how to correctly do the wiring work. The animation allows the learner to practise the technique over and over again without any risk of electric shock or damaging any equipment.
Another benefit is that in the virtual world, a specific piece of equipment is always ready. It's not missing, or in the shop or down for repairs. When a student needs to learn something new, that virtual equipment is there when it is needed.
Bubba said this type of training creates a higher level of confidence.
"Research has shown that when participants are engaged in highly interactive virtual learning, they feel an enhanced level of confidence and engagement with the learning to a much higher extent than traditional forms of knowledge transfer," Bubba said.
He said it also gives the learners a higher sense of ownership of what they're learning.
"Because they are confident, they're willing to try new things, apply their new learnings in the virtual world, so that they can test their skills prior to attempting these tests in the real world."
Bubba said when people learn this way, they take a higher interest and gain a sense of pride in what they have learned and are often willing to share it with friends and family members.
He added that virtual learning is important whenever procedures are changing or the equipment is upgraded. Bubba said employees can get their essential upgrade training without having to wait for a specific piece of equipment to become available. With virtual training the equipment is ready by just clicking a computer mouse.
Bubba said this type of efficiency supports employee retention because employees appreciate the investment in their training, by their company.
He added that it is not just AR or VR training that piques the interest of young people. He said more and more students are impressed to learn about critical minerals, about Battery Electric Vehicles, about autonomous "driverless" vehicles and how the mining industry is leading the way on all those fronts.
Len Gillis is a reporter at Sudbury.com. Jobs of the Future is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.