Skills Migration for Remote Drill Operators

Published: March 15,2021


About the mining operation(s) discussed:

Located in Chile, South America.
• This large copper mine successfully transitioned to autonomous drilling operations in 2020 withno job loss.

Role and Skill Requirements

Through a process of upskilling, drill operators had to transition from the traditional role of controlling the machine onsite to controlling the machines remotely. This change demanded new skills such as:
• The use of new software for creating instructions for the drill.
• Basic Microsoft Office skills so they could gather all the relevant information for the process.
• The ability to make strategic decisions based on digital information and KPIs.

Key Stakeholders

Operators had to become familiar with and accustomed to working with the new technology that enabled autonomous operations. For this to happen, it was important to include the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) in all steps, especially once training began.


There were not enough internal resources available to teach the new skillsets, so using an external facilitator from the OEM who brought experience and knowledge from developing the technology helped the operation save time and resources. When internal resources were used, training was provided by engineers or technicians with certification from the OEM.

For the first three months of the transition, training was conducted traditionally with a trainer working hands-on with operators. After the third month, the COVID crisis resulted in a reduction of onsite employees, so the remainder of training was completed online.

On-site training proved to be the most successful way to learn. As many operators had little-to-no educational background in digital technologies, this knowledge gap presented challenges for online learning. However, once operators became more comfortable working in a virtual environment, they became more motivated. After a slow start, operators started to learn faster as they gained more experience online.

One challenge was that many operators did not have a strong understanding of mining KPIs— such as availability and utilization—in order to make strategic decisions and enable continuous improvement. While some courses covering similar topics were offered, they did not provide a strong enough understanding to enable improved decision-making.

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