Mining for Millennials

The mining industry faces a staffing problem; the employment pool reaching adulthood since the turn of the millennium do not have the general characteristics that will predispose them to the extractive sector.

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People currently aged between circa 18 and 38 are widely regarded as 'millennials'. There is no agreed precise definition, but millennials have grown up with the internet and can't imagine a world without it.

Millennial is an identity widely given to people born between 1981 and 1991 (Generation Y) and to those born between 1991 and 2001 (Generation Z). These two groups can be separated by technology; Generation Y grew-up on personal computers, cell phones and video game systems, while Generation Z has grown up on tablets, smartphones and apps.

There are various other definitions, for example in 2015 the US Census Bureau used the birth years 1982 to 2000 to describe millennials. The common ground, however, is that this generation has been generally marked by an increased use of, and familiarity with, communications, media and digital technologies.

The majority of research concludes millennials differ from their generational predecessors, and can be characterised by a preference for a flat corporate culture, an emphasis on a work-life balance and social consciousness.

Authors William Strauss and Neil Howe believe that each generation has common characteristics. According to their hypothesis, millennials have a strong sense of community (both local and global), are confident and team oriented. Howe and Strauss suggest that millennials place an emphasis on producing meaningful work, finding a creative outlet and prefer immediate feedback.

In 2010, Andrea Hershatter and Molly Epstein, researchers from Emory University, stressed a growing importance on the balancing of personal and professional life. In 2014, a poll for the monthly Reason magazine suggested that American millennials were social liberals and fiscal centrists. Similarly, surveys among millennials in the UK suggested increasingly liberal social views, as well as higher overall support for classical liberal economic policies than those of preceding generations.

Attraction of Mining

Based on these various generalisations, mining does not currently have an image that seems likely to appeal to millennials. Mining companies are widely perceived as reactionary, with operations that are remote, male orientated, dangerous and damaging to the environment.

South Africa's Mines Minister, Gwede Mantashe, hit the nail on the head at the recent INDABA conference in Cape Town. He talked of the industry suffering from "testosterone poisoning", and that the sector would benefit from the employment of more women. The CEO of Anglo American, Mark Cutifani, has also addressed these issues. He recently stressed the need for "new social contracts", and that mines should be turned from a negative to a positive experience.

To attract the leaders of tomorrow there is considerable hope, however, from the increasing automation of mines. The metals advisory leader at EY, Paul Mitchell, said recently that automation will lead to more interesting mining jobs in the future — with fewer people in harm's way. Vedanta's vice president of projects, Satish Kumar, agrees, telling delegates at INDABA that automation will not result in a net loss of jobs but will involve a shift in skills.

A mining executive at Impala, Ms Thabile Makgala, says the "rise of the machines" will help women in mining. By 2050, she says, mining will be all about robotics, and the operations will be safer and more productive. The COO of Resolute Mining, Peter Beilby, has stressed the importance of mining companies entering partnerships with universities to increase relevant skills. 

All this is encouraging, and offers some hope that mining might start increasing its appeal to millennials in general, and to women in particular.

Chris Hinde

Chief Commentator, Mining Beacon

Previously editorial director of Mining Journal, and more recently head of S&P Global Market Intelligence's metals and mining team, Chris is now Mining Beacon's editor-in-chief and lead commentator. He posts two blogs every week, one on Monday reviewing market conditions over the prior week, and a second on Thursday looking at issues on the global mining scene. There is also a quarterly blog on business opportunities in the sector.


Go to the profile of Lindsey R. Miller
over 2 years ago

There are older millennials that remember life without the information highway. They posses a unique talent of translating and connecting multiple generations together. Our Director of Marketing (one of such) mapped out some actions the industry could take to attract more millennials and diversity into the industry in a CMM article recently.  It's focused on Canada but still relevant to the industry as a whole. Link below:

Go to the profile of Chris Hinde
over 2 years ago

Thor, many thanks for your comment on my 'Mining for Millennials' blog. I agree with Lindsey Miller's suggestions to encourage the recruitment of millennials into mining, and to diversify our workforce. It will be interesting to see if the industry takes note!