The mining industry has not been immune to digital disruption and has undergone rapid change during the past decade - which means jobs at Rio Tinto are changing.
Haul truck drivers are oftern not in the vehicles themselves and "equipment maintainers are often plugging in a tablet before reaching for a spanner" says Bold Baatar, chief executive of Rio Tinto’s Energy & Minerals business.
For the past ten years, Rio Tinto's investment in machine automation, remote operations and data capture has kept it at the forefront of innovation in the mining sector. Now almost a decade after Rio Tinto first embraced these latest changes in technology, it’s clear that more change lies ahead.
A career for the future
Approximately 20 per cent of the haul truck fleet at its Iron Ore business in Western Australia is now autonomous – making Rio Tinto the largest owner and operator of autonomous haulage systems in the world. Its 3D visualisation system, RTVisTM provides real-time information to decision makers, and drones are used for a range of activities – from conducting site surveys to monitoring turtle nesting sites located near its port operations.
So what does this mean for its employees and potential candidates considering a career with Rio Tinto?
Chris Salisbury, chief executive of Iron Ore, says while the jobs of today may not be the jobs of tomorrow – it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“Increasingly, we are finding that technology and automation is helping us to engineer out safety risks and take people out of the ‘danger zone. We’re creating a workplace where machines do the repetitive tasks, and people make the important decisions. That allows us to put frontline teams into safer environments, and people to have safer, more productive and more rewarding roles within the mining industry.”
So whilst innovation in mining will invariably mean the need for new skills and new jobs, employers and employees alike will need to adapt.
Chris explains that even his job is changing! “The skills and knowledge needed will be different, particularly as we start to unlock the power of our operational data. But I truly believe that embracing innovation, and an innovative culture, will lead to a better, brighter future for all of us in mining,” he said.
The pioneers for tomorrow
By mapping future roles that take account of the impact of technology and automation, and working with schools and universities to ensure students are equipped with the skills needed to work in the mines of the future - Rio Tinto wants to ensure it will attract the dreamers and pioneers of the tomorrow.
STEM education has an important role to play in building a pipeline of future innovators and problem solvers – in fact research shows that countries that lead in STEM education also rank high in innovation.
“There is a lot of work needed to encourage more people to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics to help solve tomorrow’s challenges,” Chris said.
Provost Professor Andrew Taggart at Western Australia’s Murdoch University, which is partnering with Rio Tinto to encourage students’ interest in science-based subjects agrees stating “It is estimated that 70 per cent of future jobs will be STEM related and these will be the key to sustaining economic growth and development. Expanding the minds of students as they explore metallurgy, bioinformatics and big data, and the dynamic career possibilities these offer, is vitally important.”
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