Mining for Talent – The Evolution of Talent in the Mining Industry

February 20, 2020 Share this article:

Perspectives from Mining Indaba 2020

Stephen Dallamore, AltoPartners Global Chairman / Managing Director at Search Partners International (SPi), Christo Badenhorst and Jaco Kriek, Directors at Search Partners International / AltoPartners South Africa, attended the 2020 Annual Mining Indaba in Cape Town. Considered to be the premier international event, discussions at the 2020 event centred around the theme “Optimising Growth and Investment in the Digitised Mining Economy”. Here they contextualise the highlights of the event within the talent management and leadership sphere.

An industry in transformation

The spotlight on the South African mining industry is justified. Statistics released by the Minerals Council at the Indaba shows that in South Africa alone the industry employs 454,861 people and contributes R360.9 billion to South Africa’s GDP.

The South African mining industry has gone through upheaval over the last decade – from political instability, to investment worries and more recently to power production issues. All of which have contributed to an industry in flux. However, Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe’s announcement that miners will be permitted to generate power for self-use without a license was met with approval. Eskom’s erratic electricity supply has severely affected productivity and investment and the concession will hopefully cast a light at the end of the tunnel.

Leaders made of steel?

The boundless energy and steel-like resilience required of mining leaders to deal with the increasing complexities of the industry became evident in the discussions at the Indaba.

A challenge highlighted by Anglo American’s CEO, Mark Cutifani in his presentation is that resources are becoming significantly harder to extract, putting immense pressure on productivity and costs. More rock needs to be extracted, and thus more energy and water is required to source 40kg of copper today than in the 1900s due to the declining grades of minerals. To remain competitive, leaders are recognising the need to transform and invest in innovative new processes, practices and technologies… and ultimately, people with the knowledge, skills and expertise adept at driving transformation and innovation.

Cutifani warned that the industry faced a “crisis of reputation”, being seen as one that takes more than it gives. He explained that the sector needs to do things differently and adopt new, safer, more sustainable and cost-effective ways to supply the world’s essential raw materials. There is a fresh focus on authentic strategies to enhance their company reputations and brands amongst all stakeholder groups. The industry needs leaders who are not afraid to challenge convention and display resilience in the face of constant change.

This raises the question: Does the mining industry in Africa have a deep enough pool from which to draw the next generation of leaders? Given Deloitte’s estimates that in the coming decade, at least 33 percent of the current mining workforce will retire, this is perhaps a relevant consideration.

Another crucial question to ask is: How can traditional industries, like the mining industry, reposition themselves so they become attractive to the younger generation? Our colleague in Toronto, Keith Labbett, has reviewed the 2020 Hiring Trends and identified three key trends that are going to impact on the pulling power of Investment / Development / Asset Management in Real Estate, Infrastructure, and Natural Resources (including the oil and gas sector), and what the smart money is doing to mitigate the risk.

Mining for talent

With many a miner’s attention focused on increasing productivity and efficiencies, it’s important not to underestimate the role that talent management plays in enabling the success of these strategies. The implementation of new, disrupting technologies requires additional specialist skills and expertise, which are in high demand and short supply.

The mining industry in South Africa is continuing its transformation journey as it adjusts to the ever-increasing pace of the prevailing technological revolution, with the 100-plus-year-old industry, steeped in tradition and, at times, crisis, seeking out new ways of adapting to this era of change. Delegates at the Mining Indaba had concerns about the leadership pipeline and scarce skills shortage, particularly with regards to digital talent.

Historically, the industry depended largely on inflated packages to attract talent. With demographic shifts, millennials flooding the workforce, and the game-changing impact of technology, mining companies need to tailor their employee engagement strategies and brands to attract and retain young professionals. More than previous workforces, millennials thrive in authentic work environments and value purpose and meaning in their careers. But what Millennials should realise is that the mining industry extracts the minerals used in the latest technologies that are changing our world - so it remains a vital cog in our developing world, despite being seen by some as dusty and out of date. This surely requires a moving closer of both groups to better understand each other. Reputation matters.

The gold standard

While mineral resources in Africa remain rich, and the opportunities for investment abound, a critical resource - that of talent - remains fiercely contested. Strategies to attract, retain and develop robust leadership and scarce skills are needed to ensure the sustainability of one of the most important industries on our continent. Executive search consultants with the ability to tap into the best-of-breed on a global scale will ensure that the industry continues to thrive as an economic powerhouse on the continent.

Contact Stephen Dallamore and Jaco Kriek for more information on this topic or to discuss your talent needs