A skills crisis is having a significant effect on the mining industry. The increase in mining activity worldwide has depleted the existing pool of mining workers. At the same time, up to half the global work force is currently over the age of 50 and expected to retire in the next 10 years. And as mines move into more remote areas, it becomes even more difficult to find qualified people willing to operate equipment in these rugged environments.
This labor shortage will leave a void in personnel and a gap in professional knowledge that will be felt throughout the industry. To address the crisis, mining companies are being more aggressive with people and talent retention — such as offering flexible schedules, increasing salaries and providing advanced training. Another way to address the shortfall in skilled workers is to reduce the need for them altogether — a real possibility as more mine sites explore the benefits of autonomous mining.
Autonomous mining enables the operation of mining equipment without human operators in the cab — reducing staffing costs and eliminating the need for operator training or staff relocation. Autonomy also allows mining companies to reduce the infrastructure required for operations. When fewer people are working on site, there is less housing to build and fewer flights to and from remote areas.
By making new or expanded sites autonomous, current employees can be deployed to other positions while autonomy makes up the gap. Autonomy also may play a role in attracting a new generation of employees to work in mines. This generation has grown up with high-powered computers, instant communication and the Internet. Autonomy’s video game feel is something that may attract people to work in the industry.
By integrating remote control, semi-autonomous and autonomous technologies, mine sites can create the right level of autonomy for their operations.