Skills shortage in the Mining Industry: Will the talent recover this time?

In the Mining Industry sector, retaining key talent is a prime focus when the times are good and skills are high in demand. It is, however, staggering that the industry stopped focusing on addressing the global skills shortage when the price of commodities plummeted back in 2015.


‘Skills Shortage’ rankings from 2008-2016

Ernst & Young publishes annual reports on the Mining and Metals Industry. These reports ranks business risks according to priority via industry participation, with #1 being the biggest risk. Taking a look at human-related risks such as ‘Skills Shortage’ or ‘Balancing Talent Requirements’ and plotting their position on the annual lists from 2008-2016, produces the graph below.


This basic meta-analysis reflects how global resource and talent has been de-prioritised since the downturn, and reflects its current status in the mining industry.

Declining Productivity due to rising Labour Challenges

Productivity is now viewed as the number one challenge across the mining sector, and one of the key factors that has caused the decline in productivity is said to be labour. Some of these issues are:

  • Inexperienced/ insufficiently trained teams resulting from an acute talent shortage in the mining industry;
  • High employee turnover due to increased bargaining power and the challenging environment of Fly-in- Fly-out (FIFO) jobs;
  • Last but not least, the much-discussed problem of having an increasingly aging workforce, also known as the ‘Baby Boomer effect’.

There is a greater need than ever before for “systems thinkers” who can manage complexity and see improvements across the whole value chain. Retaining and attracting these resources during the downturn could prepare mining companies for the next phase of growth and innovation  (Ernst & Young Report)

So why is it that companies fail to take a holistic view and see the long term consequences and risks of skills shortages – which, if correctly countered, could provide them with a strong competitive advantage when the sector picks up?

Talent retention vs. Baby Boomer effect

In 2013, our founder attended a vibrant HR-focused conference. The primary theme was to discuss what was being done to retain and develop talent, in order to counter the Baby Boomer effect and Brain Drain from people leaving the industry during the hard times, and not returning. The strategies largely focussed on skilled-labour shortages and gender diversity within the industry.

The next time this becomes a focus topic at conferences, many large organisations will be discussing professional retention, and the sharing of resources such as Geology Managers or Mine Managers. To combat this scarcity we could see an emergence of specialist teams working independently of the Mine Operators, providing fully-outsourced (and expensive) mine management and exploration geology services.

As this Commodity Winter has been particularly long and hard, organisations have been able to reverse the demands of mining professionals who commanded inflated salaries and attractive work patterns, often at the direct expense and profitability of the employer. This turnaround has put the employer back in control with what seems to be better balanced compensation policies.

Moving Talent forward through new Technologies

It does seem that this industry and its commentators are focused on the short and mid-term (yet again) and have lost sight of longer term pains. This might be one of the first articles to mention it, but it won’t be the last. Talent scarcity will be even harder felt during the next ‘boom’ cycle and organisations need to act now to innovate, find new flexible approaches to working, and retain talent for the long-term.

‘How can global talent be stretched further, without compromising quality and well-being’? One answer has to be ‘with the use of new technologies’. The industry is already combatting the blue-collar shortage with driverless trucks and automation. It is time to help emerging talent learn faster and work more efficiently. Using modern technology, such as purpose-built apps and software, can support people in their everyday work and improve their performance. It encourages an active use of data, breaks down silos and enhances integration as well as the overall company culture. After all, companies that successfully use data outperform their peers by 20%, according to E&Y. This leads to the question why there is still a visible lack of innovation across the industry.

‘We use the same equipment today we did 20 years ago, it just got bigger — but is it the best?’ (Ernst & Young Report)

We believe high salaries and compensation packages will return, the best talent will be poached and ultimately organisational and industry growth will slow down again. Herein lies the big question: How competitive will you be when the good times return?

Supporting employee productivity with new technology – Activate™

Activate™ is knowledge transfer for today’s workforce. It allows users to build detailed and knowledgeable role profiles for their team members, as well as delivering rich and engaging work programs for new starts. With Activate, development needs are identified quicker, the true value of team members is realised and continuity is maintained during times of change. Moreover, Activate delivers improved performance, enhanced collaboration and greater workplace engagement.


At iHandover, we provide the tools for managers and teams to connect, grow and succeed. Many of the challenges outlined in this article can be addressed through the use of Activateif you would like to learn more please get in touch today for a personalised demo via

Read the Ernst & Young Report referenced in this article.