The mining industry is suffering a talent shortage and it looks like it will get worse, as Gen Zers and Millennials show a lack of interest in working in the sector due to a number of factors. With this, the sector needs to work out a way to win these groups over to attract the talent it will need in the future.

Members of Generation Z (people born between 1997 and 2020) and Millennials (people born between 1981 and 1996) show a general disinterest in joining the mining industry for a large number of factors.

These include negative views of the mining sector in line with environmental concerns (Gen Zers seems to particularly display climate anxiety and a wish to help the planet), even though mining is widely thought to be key to the transition to a low-carbon world.

Another factor is an increasing desire in younger generations to feel their work has purpose (and a perception that work in the mining sector will not fulfill this desire.)

Let’s look at some of the evidence of the lack of interest among youths.

Evidence young talent isn’t choosing the mining sector

It is clear in the low numbers of mining engineering graduates, stated lack of interest, and the difficulty managers describe in retaining and recruiting new talent that there is a lack of talent attracted to a career in the mining industry. Here are some examples that evidence this.

McKinsey Surveys

McKinsey this year published an article about the decline in interest in the mining industry among youths.

In the article, it shared the results of a 2020 survey it carried out. That year, it had surveyed a group of 15- to 30-year-olds to find out their interest levels in working in various major industries, including mining, healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, and more.

When it came to the mining sector, 42% of respondents said they “definitely would not” work in the industry, the greatest percentage of definite no’s out of all sectors. Just 4% said they “definitely would” consider working for the mining industry, the smallest percentage out of all sectors in the survey.

In its article, McKinsey also shares more evidence that far fewer young people are joining the mining industry. It shares a graph illustrating the significant drop in number of mining engineering graduates recorded in recent years in the US and Australia compared to in past years. The graph shows a 63% drop in the US in 2018, and a 39% drop in Australia in 2020.

BDO’s international survey

Accounting and consulting company BDO last year surveyed industry leaders, school students, and university students in South Africa, Australia, Canada, the UK, and Latin America to find out about what they want in their careers and the types of work in the natural resources industry.

Of the 750 respondents, just 15% said they would be interested in a career in the mining sector.

BDO also found key career concerns among Gen Z participants included job security and a want to save the Earth from climate change and environmental harm.

This ties into many youths’ perception of mining as an industry that is harmful to the planet and a want to avoid adding to the harm, rather than the perception that mining will play a part in the decarbonisation of industries.

Why Gen Zers aren’t joining the mining sector

One thing that seems apparent is that Gen Zers, as well as Millennials, do not think a career in the mining sector will give them what they ideally want from a career.

This appears to be the key reason so few are interested in joining the sector, especially as more than ever, youths reportedly consider their career to be a facet of their personal identity.

More are seeking out careers that meets their needs and desires, and much of that means a career that is in line with their values, beliefs and that reinforces their identity. Good compensation alone is not enough to attract this demographic to jobs.

Some of the things Gen Zers are reported to desire in their careers include:

  1. Job security
  2. A sense of higher purpose and meaning – perhaps making a positive impact, socially and/or environmentally
  3. Flexibility in terms of both working hours and remote work
  4. A workplace that makes room for and considers staff’s mental health and wellbeing
  5. Diversity and inclusivity
  6. Feeling valued by management, as opposed to feeling treated as a mere “cog in the wheel”
  7. Opportunities to learn new skills in the role
  8. Career development opportunities
  9. Inspiring bosses
  10. Monetary rewards for hard work or taking on longer working hours.

This gives an idea of how the mining industry could make efforts to meet the wants of Gen Zers where it falls short of them by integrating changes.

It also highlights what the industry is already doing right that will attract young talent and where it can continue to focus its efforts, such as the efforts it has been making to cultivate diversity and inclusivity.

Where the mining sector could make changes to win over young talent

Credit: Nwezi

Ask employees what they value, and deliver it

Instead of working off what they presume employees and would-be employees want, miners should ask talent themselves what they value and want from a career, and work to deliver this.

Finding out what employees truly want will also give employers valuable insight to help them attract and keep talent.

Specifically, miners should find out what talent in the Gen Z and Millennial generations seek in their careers.

Prioritise ESG and truly implement it

Miners should not treat ESG frameworks as merely a requirement to meet in their companies, and more as a value and a priority for which they will go the extra mile.

By focusing on and implementing ways to make a positive social impact, give back to communities around mine sites, make their operations more sustainable, and more, miners can prove they care about the same issues as the talent they want to attract.

What’s more, demonstrating this through concrete actions that will help them to retain socially and environmentally-conscious talent.

Make talent strategy a top agenda

According to McKinsey, lots of miners spend far more energy and time working on production planning and optimisation “by 2%” as well as on workplace safety than they do on talent strategy and the “human” aspect of their companies, often treating candidates and the workforce as simply an “HR problem”.

Instead, executive and management teams need to be investing just as much time and effort into working on their talent strategies.

This includes doing long-term workforce planning – identifying talent sources, talent requirements for the future, and so on – as well as integrating these workforce strategies, keeping them up to date, and maintaining a data-supported employee value proposition (EVP).

Invest in leadership skills

Employees have been found to want inspiring, strong leaders, with poor or insufficient leadership in teams often being a key reason that employees resign.

This means mining companies need to invest in leadership and team management training in sites and offices across a variety of roles with positions of authority, form shift supervisors to engineers.

Train employees in skills that really matter

Employers would do well to ensure staff has the best opportunity to advance their careers and learn valuable skills throughout by once again investigating and identifying the skills that really matter for employees to have.

These include, as previously mentioned, skills in team management, as well as general business skills, cross-functional skills, and digital skills.

This can pave the way for lifelong learning that will empower and increase retention of employees. It will also make companies attractive to prospective talent as it is evidence that the company is taking concrete steps towards employee growth.

Rethink job requirements

Many jobs in the mining industry have requirements that may essentially be unnecessary and that also prevent a large (and younger) portion of the talent pool from entering the industry – say, for example, 10 years of experience as a requirement.

Reviewing certain requirements for job specs and assessing whether they are really necessary could open up the way for greater interest in the sector from young talent.

Need help attracting and finding the right talent? CA Mining offers mining recruitment solutions customisable to your company’s specific needs and expertise in identifying scarce-skill candidates, enabling you to build better teams.

We provide our staffing services to clients across the entire mine-to-metals chain, all around Africa, Australia, Latin America, and North America. We recruit local, diaspora, and expatriate candidates for roles.

Contact us to find out more.

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