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Human Talent: The Core of all Mining

June 2, 2021
SMS Equipment is helping to create and diversify jobs in the mining industry.

SMS Equipment is helping to create and diversify jobs in the mining industry.

No matter who you are, you’ve probably recognized that mining has a reputation for being slow to change.
 
But reputations can change, and quickly too. As Autonomous Haulage Systems (AHS) become more established in Canadian mining, everything we know about this age-old industry is shifting. And not in the “robots are taking all our jobs” way. We’re talking about a wave of human talent.
 
In fact, at this moment, brand new job roles are being created, and existing ones are broadening in more ways than we could’ve ever predicted. After trying to get a glimpse of mining’s future for so long, we finally see AHS staring right back.
That locked gaze has brought on conversations about the introduction of autonomous technology and the changing work environment. Taking the opportunity to learn from the past shows us that this type of change has always been part of history—including every single industrial revolution so far. As we become more interwoven with technology, submerged in Industry 4.0 (i.e. the fourth industrial revolution), there are questions about the human role in modern mining. Are traditional mines a thing of the past? Will we soon see fully autonomous mines with no need for humans at all?
 
No.

 

Automation is a human invention made by us for us.

Automation is a human invention made by us for us.

It’s been advanced to make our jobs wildly safer while rocketing productivity and slashing costs. Over the last five years, SMS Equipment has integrated AHS to introduce discoverable pathways for skilled tradespeople and industry experts, while pushing existing roles to branch out into new responsibilities. All of it is critically important. And while jobs are here to stay—they will change. Many are an organic progression from traditional trades; others are further stepping stones away but can readily adapt using similar transferable skills and experience.

For instance, the longstanding role of Heavy Equipment Technician (HET) who maintains, repairs, and rebuilds heavy equipment. Developing an “AHS version” requires familiarization with the autonomous interface and how to work around this equipment—a matter of supplemental education.

New roles to consider are the AHS Application Support Engineer, a technical troubleshooter for the technology, and AHS Application Trainer, who trains SMS Equipment employees and its customers to safely and efficiently run an autonomous mining operation. Other careers being born out of autonomous machines are AHS Program Manager, AHS Technician, and AHS Central Controller. All permanent. All including complete and extensive training. All ask for a long-term commitment to AHS as a new career path that will only evolve and grow.

Another is an AHS Technical Specialist—ideal for someone who gets excited about working with technologies such as GNSS, WIFI and advanced vehicle controls. This person works with factory experts, dealer technicians and customers to ensure they get the most out of AHS technical support services. It’s for progressive thinkers who thrive on challenges,  adapt to uncharted approaches, and are driven to progress alongside AHS advancements. Think of this position as having its own autonomy: as people gain experience and an intimate understanding of AHS’s possibilities and limitations, they become an integral part of the System.
Trucks may drive themselves, but equipment fleet selection, installing, training, servicing, maintaining, monitoring and managing customer relations and contracts need people.

Trucks may drive themselves, but equipment fleet selection, installing, training, servicing, maintaining, monitoring and managing customer relations and contracts need people.

People are pragmatic. Machines aren’t. It’s unlikely AHS will ever advance beyond requiring any human intervention. From simple repairs to complex problem solving, all of it requires human hands and brains. The more we open our minds to new ways of doing things, the more seamless the transition. As an industry, especially compared to others who have embraced new technologies, we can’t afford not to adopt it.
“The critical link is adding and retaining the right people to maximize this technology,” says Scott Schellenberg, Senior Mgr, Smart Mining Solutions.

Considering that AHS-related roles offer job security since more and more companies are looking to emerge from traditional mining methods and adopt AHS, the right people need to be ready.
 
On the flip side, some companies believe that just one more piece of autonomous equipment will solve all their problems. The reality? Humans connect the dots. Someone can have all the AHS technology they want, but if they don’t understand the whole chain and optimize it for human interaction, advances will be made but not maximized. That’s why SMS Equipment is proud to continue to lead the “people push” by diversifying the skilled job market.
So how can we make the most of an evolving industry?

So how can we make the most of an evolving industry?

With AHS technology, miners need to lean into human relationships more than ever before. Most of all, getting the work culture right is major—building more constructive, precise and effective systems that encourage collaboration. It’s also essential to ensure the next generation of workers is educated on what skills will be in high demand and continue to develop programs that allow those working in mining to refocus or refine talents.

Technology is boosting the mining sector in a much-needed way, but it isn’t without defined effort. There’s no place for complacency if we want to see the industry and its workers prosper. What man and machine can do together is much bigger and more impactful than anything we could each do alone.

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