Mining automation requires skills rethink: report

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Mining automation requires skills rethink: report

Call for user-centred design.

New jobs emerging in mining technology are not likely to replace those lost on mine sites as a result of automation, according to a new report.

The three-year study, from The University of Queensland's Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining, investigated the social dimensions of autonomous and remote operation technologies in Australian mining.

It found the automation of mining tasks – such as driverless trains and haul trucks – could provide safety and efficiency, but was also likely to result in the loss of on-site jobs, with new skills training required to match advancements in technology.

It comes as major Australian miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto both push ahead with major automation programs.

Professor David Brereton, deputy director of research and integration at the UQ Sustainable Minerals Institute, said while jobs in the entire sector were not likely to fall on aggregate, the shift of roles and their location was an issue.

“Clearly traditional jobs will go, and those jobs that will fall disproportionately on smaller remote communities that are built on mining.”

He added that those designing and implementing automation technology should be in discussions with education and training providers to ensure they had workforces with the right skills coming through the industry in the future.

Brereton said while Australia’s major mining companies had been somewhat secretive about automation due to their competitive nature, they should be able to agree on the need for a skilled workforce.

“Ensuring an appropriate supply of skilled labour is a common point of interest between companies…The sooner that dialogue starts the better.”

The report’s authors also investigated the interface between mine workers and technology, recommending technology developers and mining companies adopt an operator-centred approach to development and deployment.

Such a user-centred approach would involve operators in the design of technology, and deliver more widespread standardisation of technology and equipment, especially in the operator 
interface, according to the report.

Brereton said while direct mining jobs would fall with automation, the mining services sector stood to gain.

“And Australia is at the lead of this — mining services is almost as important as mining in terms of what we export.”

However the report concluded there was no guarantee the new jobs emerging in technology goods and services would be based in Australia, if Australia did not foster growth and excellence in the sector. 

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