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New millennial miners will need workforce to suit

They are demanding, they will transform the bottom lines of mining companies in future, and they should be central to the business planning of every company in the sector. They are not investors, nor metal consumers. They are Millennials, and this week’s Future of Mining Sydney conference heard they will need special attention from miners in the years ahead.
New millennial miners will need workforce to suit New millennial miners will need workforce to suit New millennial miners will need workforce to suit New millennial miners will need workforce to suit New millennial miners will need workforce to suit

Are miners paying attention to the new needs of Millennial leaders

An industry that already has challenges attracting and retaining half the available workforce pool - in the form of women - mining now has its work cut out to sell itself to Millennials who make up 27.9% of the current population in Australia and a hefty 37% of the workforce (and growing).

"The next largest group is the Baby Boomers at 24.1% and then Generation X at 21.3% [of the workforce]," Lorraine Meldrum, CEO of international recruitment firm Swann Global, told Future of Mining Sydney.

"Currently the Baby Boomers and Generation X are the most powerful generations.

"But change is nearly on us.

"But - as in all things - there needs to be some balance.

"Mining, like other industry sectors, is facing many challenges, additional challenges, new challenges, not the least of which is recruiting the right people, particularly in the supervisory, middle management sectors, and the higher C-level people.

"One of the key things the industry is facing is the change in the way people work. Putting it another way, the change from the Baby Boomers, now approaching or in a retirement phase, to the Millennials who are now beginning to enter into the managerial phase. The move and change to Millennials is, in many respects, a fundamental change in personality types, quite different to what we've seen in the past."

Why should mining leaders be any more concerned about the distinct lifestyle and work habits of Millennials than other industry bosses?

Meldrum sees some good reasons.

Firstly, the Future of Mining conference heard many people who lived and worked through the recent mining investment boom and subsequent deep industry downturn saw the impact of flawed leadership and management on communities and workforces nearly everywhere. And they were not particularly enamoured with the takeaways.

Short-termism is not restricted to mining companies and their leaders, and investors - and certainly is not foreign to many Millennials - but the underlying view of an industry without a real vision of its own future was not enhanced.

Mixed messages on technology uptake, and the appetite for skilled people and their development, has been a problem.

Meldrum said a more technologically advanced mining industry definitely had a part to play in wooing Millennials.

"It has a positive role to play, very much so," she said.

"Technology is the very thing that sets the Millennials era apart from those groups that preceded them.

"They have grown up with technology; they expect new technology to be continually rolled out, and not to have to wait too long. It is a different mindset.

"And they expect their ways to show up in mining. A big percentage of the Millennials think the bringing on of change, in the past, has been too slow.

"Thus many of them adopt the view that their sector will bring change to mining - make change happen and happen quickly, at least more quickly than we have seen in the past. With Millennials we will likely see an accelerating rate of change, and change for the better.

"The Millennials are truly people of the technology era, unlike those from other generations.

"And, looking at the Millennials further, and comparing them with … the Baby Boomers, the Millennials are the most entrepreneurial that have been seen for a long, long time in Australia.  And, generally it is said that they represent greater ingenuity. Some observers, I would add, might say they are a generation seen as arrogant, entitled, lazy, etc, although that has not been my experience.

"But an example of their ingenuity is the huge number of new business start-ups, currently in the region of about 370,000 per annum. The big proportion in that figure is people under 36 years of age - 275,000 of them."

Meldrum said mining in mature jurisdictions would face the skill shortages dilemma of the 2000s, in the next decade.

"With the pressure for greater production and the need to contain costs - which will be largely via improving technology on all fronts - there will be a need to close, or at least bridge the inevitable skills gaps.

"Many Millennials, the next wave of management people, [will] not continue in the mining sector if there are not plenty of inviting prospects and interesting work. Interesting work is what we all need [and] Millennials even more so."

Meldrum said mine management teams were often under heavy pressure to accelerate new projects under development and/or lift production from existing mines.

"They have been quick to learn that one of the biggest reasons for workers changing jobs is dissatisfaction," she said.

"Conversely, they understand that the happy, engaged and productive employees usually stay with the company for longer, thus reducing costs.

"It sounds a simple statement of fact, but it can be surprising how often companies don't deliver a good working environment.

"I recall coming across some figures on the subject of why Millennials leave their job. It was a figure of about 46% that leave their jobs because of a lack of growth prospects.

"It will pay the mining industry to embrace the Millennials, to attract them, and to retain them by showing, quite clearly, a more exciting future.

"Not just more of the same."