Many industries say that they’re struggling to find experienced people. In the mining industry we’re hearing comments like: ‘My team is so green!’, ‘We can’t seem to find good operators’, ‘Our turnover is up and our productivity is down’ and ‘We’ve got a safety system in place but we still have problems in this area.’

To work in the mining industry as an operator, you must have a ’ticket’. This is certified training that means you’re competent at a specific task, or piece of machinery. Sadly, competent does not always equal proficient or expert.

In our discussions with mine managers, we’ve uncovered a worrying trend that not only prevents companies from being able to resolve the problem but actually makes it worse.

Fear of losing employees

Many mine managers say that they don’t want to provide training for their employees to multi-skill them for different jobs. The reason? They believe if they become competent on another piece of machinery or task, they will be more employable to a competitor and will leave for more money.

This is a catch 22 situation. Not providing training means that these mines will continuously be looking for people to fill the skills gap and more likely than not, they’ll have to pay a premium for them.

Providing training does have some positive points:

  1. You become an employer of choice so that potential candidates want to come and work for you
  2. Green or lower-skilled labour is typically cheaper and therefore your salary costs can be kept down
  3. You can control the quality of the training provided and the skills acquired
  4. Skilled operators typically cause less equipment damage and provide greater throughput
  5. Skilled tradesmen typically repair equipment more efficiently and effectively and provide greater availability
  6. Skilled supervisors typically manage their people and fleets more effectively, providing greater utilisation and productivity
  7. Skilled technical staff typically provide better plans/ideas/instructions, etc.

Rather than complain that there aren’t enough suitable candidates in the marketplace, there should be a focus on improving the quality of the people already employed. By lifting the skill level of the lowest performing team, mines will automatically see an improvement in productivity, machine utilisation and downtime.

Become an employer of choice

Next is the question: ‘is there an opportunity to multi-skill my team?’ Yes, there is a risk that your freshly trained, multi-skilled operator will leave for a competitor, but companies that are known for providing training and looking after their employees gain a good reputation, making people want to work for them. These companies become employers of choice.

Training is often one of the first departments to feel the pinch when costs need to be cut. We need to turn this thinking on its head and stop blaming the economy for the lack of skilled candidates. If companies stop training employees for cost cutting reasons, who’s picking up the slack? Companies need to realise that providing training is part of their corporate responsibility and an investment in their future.

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Written by Sarah Keast, General Manager, People & Organisational Development

I’m a people developer through and through. From watching a ‘lightbulb’ moment in a workshop to seeing a person’s face when they get promoted. That’s what it’s all about for me!

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