Work as we know it is changing.

No matter what your occupation is – accountant, doctor or farmer – technology and the so-called digital disruption are transforming industries, economies and our society as a whole.

The mining industry is not immune and has undergone rapid change during the past decade.

“The mining engineer is increasingly as specialised – if not more – in software development as in mine planning,” says Bold Baatar, chief executive of Rio Tinto’s Energy & Minerals business.

“An air conditioned cab is no longer necessarily the workplace of the haul truck driver. They now also sit in air conditioned control rooms hundreds or thousands of kilometres away from the trucks themselves.

“And equipment maintainers are often plugging in a tablet before reaching for a spanner,” he said.

Almost a decade after Rio Tinto first embraced these latest changes in technology, it’s clear that more change lies ahead.

“We now face what is perhaps the biggest period of change and disruption for a century,” Bold said.

What will the mining workforce of the future look like? image
We're nurturing the next generation of pioneers, and supplying essential materials, to help solve the challenges of tomorrow and today.


estimated STEM-related future jobs

“Technology, society and markets are moving in a dramatic way which demands a fundamental shift in the way we think.”

Tomorrow’s mining workforce – as in many other industries – will require an increasing focus on problem solving skills, creative thinking and digital savvy.

Educating tomorrow’s pioneers

According to PwC, businesses competing in a global economy driven by data, digital technologies and innovation will need more employees trained in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – or STEM.

STEM education has an important role to play in building a pipeline of future innovators and problem solvers – in fact research shows that countries that lead in STEM education also rank high in innovation.

“It is estimated that 70 per cent of future jobs will be STEM related and these will be the key to sustaining economic growth and development,” says Provost Professor Andrew Taggart at Western Australia’s Murdoch University, which is partnering with Rio Tinto to encourage students’ interest in science-based subjects.

“Expanding the minds of students as they explore metallurgy, bioinformatics and big data, and the dynamic career possibilities these offer, is vitally important.”

Rio Tinto Research & Technical Development Centre Rio Tinto Research & Technical Development Centre
An analytical chemist working at our Bundoora Technical Development Centre in Victoria, Australia

To stay ahead, you need to focus on your ability to continuously adapt, engage with others in that process, and most importantly retain your core sense of identity and values.

Blair Sheppard, global leader of Strategy and Leadership Development, PwC

A STEM education helps to develop broader skills needed for jobs of the future – such as critical and analytical thinking, interpretation of data, and hands-on experimentation. It’s also important for developing skills and characteristics linked to innovation – like curiosity, working collaboratively and persistence in problem solving.

According to Blair Sheppard, PwC’s global leader of Strategy and Leadership Development, a learning mindset will also be key in the workforce of the future.

“So what should we tell our children?,” Blair said in PwC’s 2017 Workforce of the future report.

“That to stay ahead, you need to focus on your ability to continuously adapt, engage with others in that process, and most importantly retain your core sense of identity and values.

“For students, it’s not just about acquiring knowledge, but about how to learn.

“For the rest of us, we should remember that intellectual complacency is not our friend and that learning – not just new things but new ways of thinking – is a life-long endeavour,” he said.

Creating tomorrow’s

Creating tomorrow’s

Tomorrow’s challenges won’t be solved by today’s technology.

Tomorrow’s challenges won’t be solved by today’s technology.

Since 2013, Rio Tinto has partnered with Scitech in Western Australia to foster science engagement and literacy across the state. The partnership, which has been recognised nationally and internationally, includes a range of programmes aimed at encouraging students’ interest in STEM subjects and ensuring they’re equipped with the necessary skills to pursue further education and careers in STEM-related fields.

Since the partnership began, Rio Tinto has committed more than A$7 million in funding. In addition, employees from the Group’s Iron Ore business act as student mentors and participate in community events.

See how we’re working with Scitech to nurture the next generation of pioneers (video)

Mining in a world of change

For Rio Tinto, the focus is on building a culture of innovation and building capacity in future generations. For the past ten years, its investment in machine automation, remote operations and data capture has kept it at the forefront of innovation in the mining sector.

At its Iron Ore business in Western Australia, about 20 per cent of the haul truck fleet is now autonomous – making Rio Tinto the largest owner and operator of autonomous haulage systems in the world. Its 3D visualisation system, RTVisTM provides real-time information to decision makers, and drones are used for a range of activities – from conducting site surveys to monitoring turtle nesting sites located near its port operations.

Chris Salisbury, chief executive of Iron Ore, says while the jobs of today may not be the jobs of tomorrow – it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“Increasingly, we are finding that technology and automation is helping us to engineer out safety risks and take people out of the ‘danger zone’,” Chris said.

“We’re creating a workplace where machines do the repetitive tasks, and people make the important decisions.

“That allows us to put frontline teams into safer environments, and people to have safer, more productive and more rewarding roles within the mining industry.”

And while innovation in mining will invariably mean the need for new skills and new jobs, employers and employees alike will need to adapt.

“New ideas can sometimes be scary concepts,” Chris said.

“And let’s be clear. All of our jobs are changing – including mine.

“The skills and knowledge needed will be different, particularly as we start to unlock the power of our operational data.

“But I truly believe that embracing innovation, and an innovative culture, will lead to a better, brighter future for all of us in mining,” he said.

Jobs of the future:
Meet chief drone
pilot Matt Key

Meet chief
drone pilot
Matt Key

He has arguably one of the world’s best job titles and – many aircraft enthusiasts would argue – the world’s best job.

Matt Key, Rio Tinto’s Kennecott’s chief drone pilot, talks us through his typical day and how you can pursue a career as a drone pilot.

The business is mapping future roles that take account of the impact of technology and automation, and working with schools and universities to ensure students are equipped with the skills needed to work in the mines of the future.

“There is a lot of work needed to encourage more people to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics to help solve tomorrow’s challenges,” Chris said.

And Bold Baatar says companies too have work to do to attract the people they need in the future.

“However much we change, we are always going to need good people. In fact, the competition to be employers of choice will grow,” Bold said.

“It means creating an environment where people can innovate from the bottom up. This means changing our focus from resource-orientation to people, human capital and brain power.

“It’s about how we reinvent our capability and attract the dreamers and pioneers of the future.”

National Science Week

National Science Week, held 12 to 20 August 2017, is Australia’s annual celebration of science and technology.

It provides an opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of Australian scientists to the world of knowledge. It also aims to encourage an interest in science pursuits among the general public, and to encourage younger people to be fascinated by the world we live in.

Lead image: Rio Tinto's Iron Ore Operations Centre, Perth.