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Industry at risk of shirking big challenges

Though the mining industry acknowledges it is facing some huge challenges, industry leaders appear unwilling to tackle these head on at a company level.
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Staff reporter

That's according to an industry-wide survey that asked respondents to rank separately the greatest threats and opportunities as relevant to the industry overall, and then to their specific companies.

The greatest threat to the industry was reputation/social licence, followed closely by a lack of exploration success/budget. This reflects the increasing difficulty presented by more sophisticated stakeholder engagement requirements and the lack of near-surface targets in palatable jurisdictions, respectively.

Lack of growth was at number three and speaks to the current transition from the cost-cutting phase of the recovery. Investors are again demanding growth but, like exploration success, the necessary investment has not been put in place to deliver results. Concerns over attracting new talent/closing the skills gap were a little further back at four. The shifting financing paradigm was not too far off the pace at five.

At a company level, however, the clear threat is lack of growth, with reputation/social licence and the lack of exploration success/budget both slightly further down. Also, a high priority was solving the human resourcing issue and this was felt a little more acutely on the company level compared to the overall Industry.

Many of them do not understand what their audience - and that could be employees, communities or investors - really needs to hear about

The leading opportunity for growth at an industry level was comfortably technology breakthroughs. Rising commodity prices was second followed by more efficient mining/lower costs. Further back was greenfields exploration success and then some distance further back again was government/community understanding/support for mining.

Similar to the results from the threat rankings, the company-perspective responses showed more of a tendency to shirk large, industry-wide problems and focus on easy, corporate-scale wins for future growth.

This was seen in the placement of rising commodity prices at the top of the opportunities hierarchy, followed closely by expanding existing operations. Technology, by comparison, was further down against the Industry perspective and completed a tight top-three grouping.

Greenfields exploration success was mid-table as with the Industry-perspective, though government/community understanding/support for mining was further down and significantly adrift of the higher groupings.

Aspermont head of research and intelligence Chris Cann said both the contrast between identified threats and opportunities, combined with differences between industry and company perspectives gave cause for concern.

"It looks as though mining professionals recognise there is serious work to do in both improving the image of the industry among stakeholders and in finding the next generation of world-class deposits," he said.

"However, individual companies and leadership groups cannot see a path forward to solving these problems.

"Rather, leadership groups prefer to look to ‘idle opportunities' such as higher commodity prices; technology developers from outside the industry delivering game-changing breakthroughs; and expanding existing operations to move the industry forward."

Most-valued attributes not prioritised

Meanwhile, the identification of communication and vision as the standout top-two most-desirable attributes for leaders in the mining industry is not necessarily reflected by the human resourcing practices of mining companies.

Speaking with John Murray and John Revie from executive search firm Swann Global, a research partner on this report, there is a clear disconnect between how companies both invest in their leadership and set up their key performance indicators versus the leadership attributes this research shows industry values most.

"If communication is deemed across the board to be the most important leadership skill, then the question is whether companies are investing in communication training for their top five or six people - anecdotal evidence suggests such investment is inconsistent at best," Revie, global lead for social licence and sustainability, said.

"If these are the attributes - communication, vision, commitment, flexibility and so on - we would most like our leaders to show, then arguably these should be expressed more in KPIs and, in turn, reflected in salaries. While one could make an argument that these skills contribute to share price and the bottom line, little evidence points to these traits being independently measured for the purpose of rewarding good performance."

Murray, global managing director, said vision was certainly important but many leaders mistook this for strong communication skills.

"They think because they have a vision and are prepared to talk about it, they are effective communicators," he said. "Many of them do not understand what their audience - and that could be employees, communities or investors - really needs to hear about."

The ‘Global Leadership Report: Preparing for transformation' was published last week and includes interviews with 21 leading executives along with the results of a digital survey, which elicited responses from well over 500 industry professionals on the subjects of Transformation, Leadership Attributes and current industry Threats and Opportunities. The Executive Summary is available here.