Leadership needed to guide mining industry through Industry 4.0

August 12th, 2019, Published in Articles: PositionIT

New opportunities accompany job losses as the mining industry continues its Industry 4.0 trajectory, shifting away from a labour intensive industry to one which requires new digital and cognitive skills. This calls for new leadership, vision and mitigation strategies such as reskilling large swathes of the workforce – all issues which the Wits Mining Institute (WMI) is grappling with and sought to address in its inaugural workshop, “Empowering leaders for 21st Century Mining” from 6 to 8 August 2019.

The WMI is one of six Industry 4.0 institutes at the University of the Witwatersrand, seeking to create a link between academia and the industry to create new knowledge and develop new skills to prepare for large-scale change. The institute takes a multidisciplinary approach by involving all five faculties at the university in its research. The leadership programme, which includes talks, examples, site visits, group mentoring sessions, personal exercises and recommended reading and video material, is one of several initiatives by the WMI to create new skills.

Participants of the WMI’s Empowering Leaders for 21st Century Mining workshop.

“You can’t separate the future of mining from the future of energy and other sectors or from the future of work,” said WMI director Prof. Fred Cawood. New metals such as those required for batteries and smart devices are driving mining demand, as are societal expectations of environmentally friendly mining practices and community support. Political changes such as resource nationalism and the need for more economic mining are further driving forces of mining 4.0.

Consultation with the industry has helped the institute set its priorities, which are mineworker health and safety, smart mining, social impact, and the future of work. The WMI’s mining innovation lab seeks to address health and safety and smart mining with technology, but new skills and innovation (R&D) will be needed to address mining’s effect on communities and the future of work.

The technologies which enable new mining practices also require new skill sets and change the nature of typical mine work. These new skills have the potential to attract more female workers who are interested in complex problem solving, says Tanya Schonwald, who oversees the Wits Mining 4.0 Strategy.

According to Sibanye Stillwater HR vice president Mbali Magudulela, soft skills such as critical thinking, people management and service orientation will become more important for mining. With a focus on the digital skills needed to enable mining 4.0, she further recommended that companies look internally at what skills are available. Workers will do well to attain “portable skills” which can be applied in other sectors.

Learning too is changing, Magudulela said. Where formal education has traditionally been important, blended training such as self-learning, on the job learning, and new methods of learning such as through simulation tools like VR, are becoming the new norm.

New ways of working and learning rely on a workforce that is ready for these changes. With 28 000 retrenchments in mining in the last two years, according to Prof Cawood, the mining industry still appears unprepared for the changes it faces. For this reason the WMI is in talks with its partners to establish a reskilling centre (a WMI Skills Academy and Accelerator), which is aimed at large scale reskilling.

The leadership workshop also included a tour of the Wits DigiMine, a digital mining lab where new mining technologies are created, as well as a tour of the Tshimologong Precinct in the neighbouring Braamfontein, a digital incubation hub which connects the university to the city. It also included presentations on financial acumen, panel discussions on topics such as transformation, and open source course materials including videos and a reading list.

This is but one of several workshops and courses the WMI is offering to create the new skills that the mining industry requires. Others courses in the coming weeks will include mechanised mining and digital mine best practices.

Julie Courtnage, a mining consultant and environmentalist who facilitated the workshop, reminded delegates that they shape their futures by the work they do today, not tomorrow.

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