How mining companies can attract top talent and enable the green energy transition

With an integral role to play in the green energy transition, the mining industry now faces a shortage of critical skills. Axora brought together a panel of leading experts to explore solutions to this two-fold challenge.


contact-Joe Carr

Joe Carr

Mining Innovation Director, Axora

contact-Bianca Déprés

Bianca Déprés

Energy & Natural Resources Associate at Pinsent Masons

The mining industry has a critical role to play in the world’s energy transition. From wind turbines to electric car batteries, metals are vital to the green economies of the future. To deliver on this unprecedented need for mined materials, the industry must optimise its processes and leverage emerging technology to boost sustainability and efficiency. Making this happen will rely heavily on the industry’s ability to attract top talent, especially individuals who are skilled in areas like AI and data science. As a traditional industry, new approaches to recruitment will be required if mining companies are to bridge the skills gap. In a recent panel discussion, Axora and Young Mining Professionals (YMP) brought together a combination of mining, sustainability, and recruitment experts to identify potential solutions.

Bringing more than a decade of industry experience to the conversation, Axora’s own Innovation Director, Joe Carr, shared insights gathered during his time as a mining engineer at the likes of Rio Tinto and Barrick Gold. Providing insight direct from the source, Catriona Bell, Principal Advisor at Rio Tinto, offered a dynamic perspective due to her focus on energy and climate change in the copper space.

On the topic of energy and the environment, Phoebe Whattoff, Sustainability Consultant at Minviro, provided her specialist knowledge of the environmental impact of the critical metals space. Also crucial to the discussion was Max Gilligan, an executive search professional who specialises in recruiting best-in-class professionals into the mining industry. Finally, steering the expert panel was Bianca Depres, a lawyer in the energy and natural resources sector at Pinsent Masons.

In this article, we will explore the insights of this dynamic panel to better understand the skills gap, the mining industry’s critical need to attract top talent, and why it is so vital in enabling the green energy future.

Why is there a skills gap?

At the beginning of the discussion, Joe Carr reminded us that the skills gap issue in the mining industry is not new, and that it has been a topic of conversation for a long time. It has become increasingly difficult to replace experienced veterans at the same rate they are leaving the industry, and the rate of this trend continues to quicken.

On the one hand, Joe puts the widening gap down to the industry not presenting itself as an attractive choice among those starting their careers, but he also points out the different kinds of skills that are required today. Casting his mind back to his own degree, Joe said: ‘I didn’t study Machine Learning, but mining engineers are often now expected to.’ Mining companies need to attract individuals with these vital skills from outside of the industry as well, but the industry’s low career appeal turns this into a two-fold problem.

As mining companies struggle to compete with the attractiveness of big tech companies that thrive on skills like AI and programming, pressure continues to mount on the industry. Citing the primary risk in his opinion, Joe said that ‘we are simply not going to be able to open all of the mines we need to open’ to enable the green future without the right skills.

Mining is critical to environmental sustainability

As touched on in this article already, the green energy revolution is heavily dependent on the raw materials sourced by mining. Reuse and recycling can help to boost and maintain sustainable practices, but new sources of metal are in constant demand to accommodate the world’s green ambitions.

Following on from the insights shared by Joe Carr, Phoebe Whattoff called out the misconceptions about the mining industry’s place in enabling the green future. She said, ‘there is a significant lack of knowledge on what the mining industry actually is and what it has to offer.’ Phoebe told the panel and its audience that this challenge is limiting enrolment into the industry, with university courses often being poorly promoted and funded.

Phoebe went on to explain that the industry is still seen by many to be ‘a massive contradiction to the energy transition and to environmental sustainability.’ Remedying this misunderstanding will require a concerted effort to not just raise awareness among potential candidates, but wider global audiences as well to adjust perceptions of the space.

From the remote operation of vehicles and equipment, to working from home and providing vital tech skills, an increasing number of roles have evolved and new ones have been created.  

How can mining companies attract talent?

As a priority, mining companies must address misconceptions about the role it plays in sustainability around the world. Providing insight from within the mining industry, Rio Tinto’s Catriona Bell expressed a strong interest to ‘get on the front foot’ when it comes to changing the space’s public image. She stated that a way for mining companies to do this is by highlighting how integral they are to the energy transition, as well as setting out their own net zero targets.

Describing another actionable insight for mining companies, Catriona spoke of the need for mining companies to become their own best advocates. Specifically, she suggested that organisations should share and amplify stories from the ‘young professional population already working in the industry,’ which can serve as a powerful recruitment and awareness tool on the topic of sustainability.

Another key message that must be promoted to attract new talent is that the mining industry has changed in other ways. In many cases, roles that once required lengthy periods at mine sites can now be carried out remotely, and this is a factor that has the power to transform the industry’s attractiveness.

How can mining companies compete for critical skills?

The growth of non-traditional, technical roles within the mining sector calls for an influx of specific and critical skills. In many cases young people are not aware that these roles are available, or that many of them can be conducted remotely. Max Gilligan, an executive search specialist in the mining space, explained that mining companies must raise awareness ‘among those in finance, HR, tech, and those with legal backgrounds who offer transferable professional skills.’

Sharing his thoughts on how the mining community can communicate better, Max emphasised the value of companies talking more about the wider benefits they offer, beyond the raw materials they extract. He said, ‘I think there is an out-of-date view that trans-national corporations take a lot of money out of the countries in which they operate, and we need to be more transparent about the economic benefits they offer.’ This approach would reassure talent outside of the industry that mining is a sector that is giving back to society, now and in the future.

Talent and the green energy transition

As with all skills gaps, a major part of the solution is promoting diversity and inclusion, which the panel unanimously agreed must be prioritised by mining companies.

Catriona Bell stated that ‘diversity of gender, diversity of ethnicity, and diversity of thought’ must be championed to attract young, specialised talent.

In summary of the discussion, the panellists raised the audience’s awareness to just how fundamental the mining sector is to sustainability. The green economies of the future demand an unprecedented amount of metal, but the industry must optimise their approaches to exploration and extraction. Streamlining mining processes requires innovation, and this must be fuelled by the technical skills that are in such high demand.

The panel agreed that the industry has work to do to close its skills gap. First and foremost, the sector must help to educate society on the positive and important role it is playing in the green energy transition, as well as the other positive impacts it has on the societies amongst which it operates. It must also showcase the exciting, environmentally beneficial opportunities it has to offer, especially in areas like remote operations that may attract new talent from areas like tech and finance.

You can catch up on the full panel for yourself in our metals and mining community group here.  

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