Global Mining Guidelines Group's blog

Between the Guidelines: People and Autonomous Mining

By Francine Harris, Technical Editor, GMG

An essential part of developing a business case for implementing autonomous systems in mining is to ask: how will this affect our social license to operate? This immense change will affect the workforce and the surrounding community. This important consideration is a thread throughout the GMG Guideline for the Implementation of Autonomous Systems in Mining and is covered in detail in Section 11.

The evolving workforce

It is no secret that automation in mining will affect the size and shape of the workforce. For example, when asked what measures they expect their company to adopt by 2022, 72% of mining and metals industry respondents in the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Future of Jobs survey selected that they expect that they will have to “reduce the workforce due to automation.”

It isn’t all bad news though, by taking people out of unsafe environments, automation can make jobs safer. It can also offer opportunities for improving job satisfaction by offering the potential for more flexibility, cleaner working environments, and changing FIFO needs.

There is also the question of skill diversity. For example, automation will create new jobs, but those will be desk jobs that often require entirely different technical and digital skills. Not everybody has the skills or the desire to take on these jobs. Those implementing autonomous systems need to consider all the benefits and costs very carefully in order to make the right decisions.

Guidance from the GMG Guideline related to the workforce:

  • Section 6: Approaching change management
  • Section 8.2.1: Considerations for when developing your business case
  • Section 11.1: Developing a workforce engagement plan
  • Section 11.2: Addressing skills gaps
  • Appendix D.2: Collaborating with educational institutions and government

The community

The changes brought on by autonomous mining also affect the communities around the operation. This change can be positive, for example, if the choice to implement autonomous systems will help extend the life of the mine. The new types of jobs can also attract a more diverse workforce, bringing opportunities to the community.

However, the change can also be negative. The people in the community may depend on the mine, so if implementing autonomous systems reduces or changes employment opportunities, it will not only impact the people but also the other local businesses and suppliers. Further, the social and community impact has the potential to violate existing agreements and affect the operation’s social license to operate.

Guidance from the GMG Guideline on community and social impact:

  • Section 11.1.3: General guidance on the social and economic impact assessment
  • Appendix D.1: Steps for completing a social and economic impact assessment

Learn more

  • Read the guideline here
  • Learn directly from the people who have been there at the Implementing Autonomous Systems Short Course at SME, Feb 23. Learn more
  • Automation is only one of many factors that is completely changing the workforce. We are in the early stages of creating a working group on the Workforce of the Future. If you are interested in this issue and have insights you would like to share, please contact us!
  • The workforce of the future will be a key topic at this year’s GMG Forums. Check out the GMG Luleå Forum program here