Speaking on the first morning of Investing in African Mining Indaba, Rio Energy & Minerals chief executive Bold Baatar spoke of the industry’s changing needs.
“The biggest challenge and opportunity is only ahead of us as we look at automation and the advent of artificial intelligence,” he said.
“Ernst and Young, and Deloitte, both rank the ‘digital revolution’ and ‘digital effectiveness’ among the top risks facing the global mining sector. But at Rio Tinto we see it as an opportunity.”
Baatar said the mining industry would continue to employ hundreds of thousands of people globally, but the jobs of today, like haul truck drivers, would move towards data analysts and software engineers.
“We will create sophisticated technical jobs, which will require investment in re-skilling. This will also make people safer. This will also make operations safer,” he said.
“Currently around two-thirds of our engineers are mining engineers and one-third are data engineers or telecoms experts. In a decade that will have flipped and the mining engineers will account for around one-third.
“That means we need to persuade skilled graduates to join Rio Tinto instead of Facebook, Google or Uber.”
Rio is the world’s largest owner and operator of autonomous trucks, and last week, the company announced the one billionth tonne of material had been moved by a driverless truck since they were first introduced 10 years ago.
Baatar said Rio sought to bring in new technology responsibly with its employees and communities in mind.
“The transition of skills will require retraining and time. Mining jobs are difficult and often in remote locations away from families and this transition will improve work-life balance,” he said.
“So the mine of the future will produce differently, it will look different, and it will need a different type of human input.”
Baatar described Africa as the largest untapped source of growth in mining.
“With 200 million people aged 15 to 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world,” he said.
“These bright young ‘digital natives’ are perfectly poised to take advantage of the opportunities.
“The skills that drove Africa’s telecoms boom, will drive tomorrow’s mining industry.
“We need African engineers. We need African technicians. We need African brains. That is the future.”
Rio’s operations in South Africa, Namibia and Madagascar are all managed by local leaders, while Africans also manage Dampier Salt, human resources in the copper business, and diamond operations in Canada.
Baatar urged delegates to stop by Rio’s Indaba stand to meet some of its local leaders, but joked that poaching was not allowed.
“We are at a turning point in our industry. Technology, society and markets are moving dramatically at rapid pace demanding a fundamental shift in the way we think. We have never before seen such a coming together of trends and challenges,” he said.
“We, Rio Tinto, will be part of Africa’s future. We want to draw our future talent from Africa. And shape the future together.
“If the mining industry is to succeed in this new era, we must grasp these opportunities and turn them into positives so we can continue to supply minerals and materials essential for human progress.”