Neurodivergent individuals can struggle to find employment across sectors, including the mining sector, with neurodivergence widely perceived as a disadvantage. However, with this narrow view, companies sometimes miss out on hiring individuals whose neurodiversity could make them an asset to their teams.

In this article, we look at neurodiversity and the benefits it can bring to the mining industry, as well as how companies can do better at attracting and retaining neurodivergent employees.

What we mean when we talk about neurodivergence

Neurodivergence refers to cognitive functioning in a person that is different from ‘normal’ mental functioning, which can include differences in learning, thinking, processing the world, and behaviours.

It refers mainly to conditions like autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but it encapsulates a wide range of neurological conditions, including ADHD, epilepsy, mental illnesses, or brain injuries, dyslexia, speech disorders, Tourette Syndrome, bipolar disorder, and even migraine.

Neurodivergence is however mostly associated with conditions that manifest in notably unique behaviours or ways of thinking, and even impaired social or cognitive functioning, such as conditions like autism or Tourette Syndrome.

It is less associated with conditions like migraine and epilepsy, which are also caused by unique brain processes but don’t translate to different behaviours or thinking processes.

Why neurodiversity would benefit the mining sector

A solution to the industry’s skills shortage

Neurodivergent individuals may be able to fill skills gaps in the mining industry, which is currently suffering a talent shortage globally.

The sector has a huge shortage of professionals in areas such as 3D modelling, quality control and analytics, programming, engineering, and more areas in which some professionals with neurodivergent thinking have exceptional abilities.

For instance, it is widely observed that some people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have what are called savant skills – a prodigious talent in a specific area that goes far beyond general abilities. These skills are typically isolated to certain areas and are cognitive.

Savant skills

Common savant skills among autistic individuals include unusually strong pattern recognition abilities, visual-spatial skills, mathematical skills, memory, and more (exceptional mathematical skills being some of the most reported in this group), which tie into roles such as programming, engineering and other aforementioned positions.

Along with this, some individuals with autism tend to have obsessive preoccupations with certain subject areas or topics, which leads to them strengthening their aptitude for them.

Savant skills appear from research to be more common in people with autism than other people, whether neurotypical or neurodivergent.

For instance, various past studies of groups of people with both neurotypical and neurodivergent participants found participants on the autism spectrum were more likely to have savant skills than the other participants in the groups.

Unique capabilities, unique opportunities

Mining companies should be taking advantage of the opportunity to employ such individuals for their giftedness in these areas.

Not only is it a useful solution to the sector’s skills shortage, but neurodivergent individuals’ unique capabilities and out-of-the-box thinking can bring unique opportunities to companies and create competitively advantaged workforces.

Employers could use the abilities of neurodivergent employees to build even stronger teams. After all, every team relies on the different abilities of each member, and there is a variety of skills needed for the multiple areas of mining operations. Managers should play into each team member’s strengths.

Just as every neurotypical person has their strengths and weaknesses, so do neurodivergent people, and employers simply need to find ways to harness their unique strengths.

Misconceptions create barriers for individuals with ASD

At the same time as having remarkable abilities in specific areas, some individuals with neurodivergence such as ASD may also have severe difficulties in other areas or functions, such as language development, reading nonverbal communication, and so on.

Unfortunately, most research on ASD focuses mainly on this type of diagnostic criteria, as well as quite a large focus on the genius abilities of some people on the spectrum.

Because of this, there are many misconceptions about neurodivergent people which can hinder their chances in the workplace.

The common narrative around people with ASD is that they struggle socially with communication and body language, show little emotion, and are exceptionally bright. However, this is a narrow perspective that doesn’t allow for the possibility that autism takes many forms and that people with ASD are multifaceted individuals, not just stereotypes.

As Christian Jarret from the British Psychological Society said in his article Autism – Myth and Reality, “Not everyone with autism is a genius… and autistic people can be friendly and caring.”

Diversity and inclusivity

Gender diversity is currently a big focus in the mining industry as the sector tries to attract more women to industry roles and promote inclusivity. Diversity of ethnicity is also a key focus for companies.

This is important and positive progress, however, diversity of thought in the workplace is also important, as well as the inclusivity of individuals with disabilities (in some cases, neurodivergent individuals are considered disabled depending on how far their condition affects them, however, not all neurodivergent people should be automatically considered disabled.)

Mining companies should also focus on attracting and retaining neurodivergent employees and creating a supportive, accessible work environment. This will further attract neurodiverse professionals to jobs in the mining sector.

Diversity of thinking means more innovation, creativity, new ideas, and dynamic teams that can hugely benefit companies.

How to make Mining more neurodiverse for successful workforces

Raising awareness around neurodivergent individuals and their strengths is a necessary step to encourage more mining companies to employ neurodivergent people, and kill the stigma and public misconceptions around neurodiversity. Companies can raise awareness by training their staff among other things.

Increasing awareness will also help companies to ensure they provide a supportive workplace culture for neurodiverse individuals that can help them thrive and meet their potential in their roles.

This would have the added advantage of attracting more neurodiverse candidates. A supportive work environment would also have a positive effect on neurodivergent employees’ well-being and job satisfaction, thereby improving the retention rates of these employees.

In addition to raising awareness, companies could also focus their recruiting strategies, management styles, onboarding methods, and more to accommodate and provide accessibility to neurodivergent individuals.

Adapting recruitment and interview approaches

Attracting neurodivergent candidates can be difficult for employers, and companies need to make applying for positions and joining the team more appealing to such individuals, which means rethinking their recruitment process.

This includes everything from job descriptions on ads for vacant roles, to interview questions and behavioural assessments. These are all things that can discourage some neurodivergent people or even discriminate them. For example, job descriptions may list desired candidate characteristics that some neurodivergent people may find off-putting, such as ‘good team player’ or ‘organisational skills’.

Rather, employers would do well to list only skills and characteristics that are truly relevant and necessary for the job.

Companies should also stop placing as much emphasis on candidates being a ‘good cultural fit’ and instead examine how they could transform the workplace culture to be more welcoming to and accommodating of neurodiverse employees.

In conclusion

Changing interviewing processes and candidate selection procedures can help to rid workplaces of discrimination and reshape the company culture to one that is accepting, diverse, and that sees the value that both neurotypical and neurodivergent workers can add to their teams.

CA Mining provides tailorable recruitment services to clients with projects across Africa as well as in Australia, Canada, Latin America, the Middle East, and beyond.

We identify scarce-skill talent from our candidate database and recruit local, diaspora, and expatriate professionals for roles in industries spanning the entire mine-to-metals chain.

To find out more about our staffing solutions and how we can help you develop stronger teams, contact us to speak to a consultant.

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