Mining behemoth Rio Tinto has today launched a $10 million investment program targeted at school-age learners to fast-track the development of skills needed for a digital workforce.
The program was developed with Amazon Web Services and startup accelerator BlueChilli and will also serve as a platform to crowdsource and fund ‘edtech’ ideas from start-ups and schools.
Launched on Monday at the Rio Tinto Centre for Mine Automation at the University of Sydney, the program will initially identify existing edtech projects aimed at enhancing future skills that can be quickly scaled-up for the use of students, parents and teachers with a particular focus on critical thinking, problem-solving, automation, systems design and data analytics.
Building on prior investments to ensure its talent pipeline in an era of increasing automation (which total about $14 million a year), Rio Tinto cites employment analytics firm Burning Glass in needing to address a shortage in transferable, broad based STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills.
Rio is set to announce an advisory board for the program early next year made up of Australian leaders in education, business and innovation, followed by the start-ups selected to receive grants through the program later in 2020.
As with most accelerator programs, training and mentoring for the startups will be provided from more experienced entrepreneurs.
Rio Tinto’s chief executive, Jean-Sébastien Jacques, said in a statement that the current pace of technological change is challenging the industry’s ability to “attract, develop and retain the talent needed to run our operations of the future”.
“Addressing the change in skills required by mining and other industries is a task that requires new thinking and genuine partnerships between business, governments and academia.
“This approach significantly expands the network of organisations focused on equipping people for a digital future,” he said.
Professor Duncan Ivison, deputy vice-chancellor (research) at the University of Sydney, added that the program was developed to provide at least a “basic digital literacy” in the mining sector.
“We have worked with Rio Tinto for over a decade in advanced robotics and AI technology,” he said.
“[Programs] like these are particularly important when you consider the automation of routine tasks will increase demand for higher order skills such as critical thinking and analysis. We need to prepare young people for these changes and at a minimum ensure that with increasing digitisation of the workplace there is basic digital literacy across all workers.”
Rio Tinto is also seeking out to additional business, education and innovation leaders to register their interest in join the program.