Training is Crucial for the Mining Industry

What are some of the industry’s key challenges and trends? And, what are the most important elements when planning a training program for your mining operation?

In this post we’ll examine:

Mining probably isn’t the first industry that springs to mind when someone thinks about an employee training plan. The reason may be because of this stock idea that miners are a group of dusty men carrying a pick axe into a mine hundreds of feet below ground to well, mine. But the profession and industry itself aren’t immune to challenges of their own especially around training. Learning operations will need to become a part of mining operations for successful excavation endeavors. Training programs and the management of training for miners will become a larger challenge for mining companies in the future as mining activities expand, the industry seeks a new and global workforce, and excavation technologies become more sophisticated.

Mining as a whole may have declined in North America and Europe, however, it’s still an important part of the industries in South America and Africa, two of the largest producers of the global economy’s much-needed dependence on metals, minerals, and other natural resources. For instance, Zimbabwe’s mineral industry generated $9.7 billion in revenue for the country in 2022, and a staggering 70% of the world’s cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The industry is more than just collecting hundreds of workers to perform physical labor at mining and excavation sites. There’s also a whole ecosystem of employees tasked with managing safety, logistics, transportation, and treatment of the extracted metals and minerals. Beyond this, many of the world’s supply chains rely on the success of mining organizations as their materials form the backbone of many of the world’s products. This includes a vast array of industries from manufacturing, construction, and most recently electronics due to the increased demand for computer processing units and batteries for computers, smartphones, and electric vehicles. Chip shortage anyone?

Put simply, we all rely on the mining and metals industry, even if we don’t realize it. Training is a vital piece of the puzzle to ensure that miners stay safe and resources are correctly identified and extracted.

So, what are some of the key challenges in the mining industry, and how can the right training solve them?

Employment Trends and Challenges in the Mining Industry

A recent McKinsey study suggests that mining is a “dying profession,” as young workers aren’t interested in joining the mining and minerals industry. There’s a variety of reasons for this, including concerns around career satisfaction and progression, long-term safety, and the ethics of mining.

This puts immense pressure on mining companies to not just retain their existing talent, but also to attract new talent. Mining is a very physically demanding job, so miners often can’t work until retirement age, meaning there is a critical need for a younger workforce to join the mining industry. And if there is a younger workforce interested in joining their ranks, they’ll more than likely be sourced from distant areas somewhat near the mining operation. For instance, some mining operations in South Africa are said to source their miners from as far as 50km away from the mining site. This will pose an even larger logistical challenge to get miners on site to do the job and learn new processes and tech used. 

86% of mining executives say that it is harder to recruit and retain the talent they need today versus two years ago, while 71% of mining leaders say the talent shortage is holding them back from delivering on production targets. This may seem like a worrying employment trend in the mining and minerals industry, however, with the demand for precious metals and minerals in key industries and the growth of new technology, mining is here to stay regardless of what McKinsey analysts are forecasting.

How do we know? Technology will continue to play an even larger role in the mining industry. Once an industry is purely reliant on manual labor, the industry has grown from using machines capable of digging mounds of dirt in minutes to drones to map out the topography of a mining operation.

Some recent technology trends currently being utilized in global mining operations have included:

  • Spatial Data Visualization: 3D modeling of mining sites as well as augmented and virtual reality for scoping. 
  • Automation: From trains and robotic trucks programmed to go from site to site on a computer’s command. 
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Systems: GIS Systems help plan and visualize complications of a mining site. 
  • Internet of Things (IoT) technology: Various technical equipment that’s hooked up to online databases that can manage everything from health and safety or workers to calculating mineral output in real-time.

These technologies alone when utilized in the mines ensure that mining is an industry that has adapted to the times. With younger generations in both developed and developing economies looking to move away from digging, mining companies can find new and exciting ways to involve them in a continually booming industry. The technological solutions will more likely appeal to younger workers with stronger digital skills but also to seasoned workers looking to transition into the industry. 

How is Training for Mining Regulated?

In a dangerous industry like mining it’s not surprising that training is highly regulated on a national level and by the companies themselves. No mining company wants to leave itself open to a lawsuit if anything goes wrong, so getting the right training in place is of paramount importance, especially when it comes to compliance and health and safety standards.

In the US, training in the mining industry is regulated by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) under the Department of Labor. The MSHA requests that miners receive materials, guidance, and hands-on assistance to meet their training obligations at the most basic level. On top of this, the Department of Labor also recommends annual refresher courses to help ensure miners are performing to best safety practices.

In the UK, National Occupational Standards (NOS) in mining are in place for many roles, with the Mineral Products Qualification Council (MPQC) as the awarding body for ensuring and maintaining these standards. In South Africa, it’s the Mining Qualifications Authority, and in Australia, the mining industry is regulated at the state and territory levels.

As a result, mining operators need to have an in-depth understanding of the training and qualification requirements of their respective countries. What this also means is that when mining employees choose any of the variety of training programs they must ensure that programs are comprehensive and cover all aspects outlined by the home country’s mining association.

Training Challenges in the Mining and Minerals Industry

Some of the biggest training challenges in the mining industry include:

  • Safety and hazard awareness
    Cave-ins, toxic gases, explosions, and accidents with heavy machinery all present unique challenges for mining organizations looking to keep their workers safe.
  • Technological advancements
    As mining technology advances, employees need to understand how the new devices and systems improve efficiency, productivity, and safety. 
  • Environmental Compliance
    Environmental and sustainability considerations are becoming increasingly important in the mining and minerals industry, so training must emphasize the importance of minimizing waste, reducing pollution, and responsible mining practices.
  • Remote Mining Operations
    Mines are often located in geographically remote locations, including offshore sites or areas with limited infrastructure and connectivity. This often means that training must be available offline to ensure anytime, anywhere access.
  • Geographic and Location Specific
    Mining is a fully global industry, which often attracts a diverse range of workers. Those organizing training for miners should ensure that it’s available in all relevant languages and localized to the specific region. For instance, a mine in the desert will present very different challenges to a mine in a mountainous region.
  • Talent Sourcing
    Capturing the interest of a younger workforce will prove to be the greatest challenge in the industry. As a new generation of mining employees enters the industry, there must be clear training protocols in place to harness the expertise of experienced workers to transfer knowledge to workers new to the industry. 

manage training for miners

Planning Training for Miners, Engineers, and Mining Operators

Training for miners has changed in the past 100 years. With the introduction of new mining tech and government regulations, planning training alone can get pretty complex. It’s best to start with the simple criteria below and then work your way down from there. 

In planning onboarding and continued training for employees in your mining operation, training coordinators must conduct a needs analysis of their company.

Look over your team and look for:

  • Experience – Focus on the level of experience the miner has and what their specific role is in the operation. Are they novices that are onboarding, experienced miners from another company, or are they highly experienced miners looking to learn new skills related to their role? How many employees in your mining operation fit these descriptions?
  • What’s Missing? – Is the miner lacking in training for a specific area? For example, it’s not surprising to find that a novice miner doesn’t have health and safety training completed nor is it a surprise that an experienced non-management miner doesn’t know how to use the new GIS software.
  • Location and Time – What’s the schedule of each team member in your operation? Where are they located? Can the training be provided purely by the LMS and virtual instructor-led training or is training better off handled using live instructor-led training sessions? If so, do you have qualified instructors available in the area to conduct sessions when needed? Or even better, think if a blended learning approach can be used to help complete parts on-site while others can be completed on the miners’ own time.

Developing a Training Program for Your Mining Operation

Of course, when you’re developing a training program for a mining operation, you need to ensure that you’re solving training challenges for miners in the fastest and most efficient way possible.

Given that our world is increasingly digitized, it’s no surprise that trainer-to-trainee courses have also as well. Most mining operations nowadays will utilize a Learning Management System (LMS) to provide training material to miners. The LMS is key for miner skilling and reskilling as it provides the database or library of training material that miners will receive from their instructors. In addition, the LMS is key in that it provides rapid content delivery,  an easy-to-use interface, and can be supported offline for distance learning. 

The LMS would then need to be populated with the appropriate training content relevant to the respective training program. Whether miners are new or experienced, common training courses expected to be a part of a training plan include:

  • Health and Safety Safety
  • Fall Safety and Planning Training
  • New Miner & Newly Hired Experienced Miner Training
  • Annual Refresher Training
  • Miner Rights and Responsibilities
  • Working Around Mining Equipment

An LMS is great for distributing learning for one or a combination of training programs for miners. The LMS can provide the mining employees, the ability to download e-learning modules, videos, or digital resources, complete them offline, and send the results back to the system when the learner is back online. This is a critical piece, especially in mining locations where miners are geographically dispersed and may have poor internet connectivity. 

LMS platforms used for miner skilling and reskilling programs can allow miners to earn relevant certifications related to the training provided. With the industry’s complex system of rules and regulations, it’s essential to ensure that the chosen LMS contains training programs that cover all modules listed by your mining governing body’s approval checklist. 

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Providing Learning Resources for Mining Operation Staff

Not all training will need to be delivered using a live, synchronous approach. Lots of resources will need to be referred to time and time again, whether that’s as a refresher for busy miners or for procedures that don’t often need to be performed. Providing these resources in the right way will ensure your miners can learn in the flow of work to keep everyone safe, efficient, and productive.

For miners in particular, making learning resources accessible on their mobile devices will be extremely important. Make sure your LMS is mobile-friendly, with adaptive, responsive content that works just as well on a cell phone as it does on a bigger screen. For instance, ensure miners can zoom into diagrams, maps, and equipment user guides, and add subtitles to videos so they don’t miss anything in a noisy mine environment.

As mentioned above, don’t forget to enable the ability to download resources so they can be accessed offline. Your miners are likely to have limited connectivity in remote areas, so they may need to download a batch of resources in advance just in case. One idea could be to provide a “master device” containing all of your training resources that live with the mine manager. Just make sure your content can be easily updated across devices when miners reconnect to the internet so that they always have access to the latest information.

However, you may find that an LMS alone isn’t enough. If ILT and vILT are an important part of your training program (which is very likely in the mining and minerals industry), you may also want to consider a Training Management System (TMS).

What to Consider for a Training Management System

What is a training management system anyway? A training management system (TMS) is software designed to replace the administrative functions of a training program and the associated back-end operations. In short, the TMS is responsible for helping training administrators in the mining operation to more efficiently schedule training and manage resources. 

Training management systems designed specifically to the needs of mining operations are catered to cover specific areas that lack bandwidth from the training team assigned to the operation. TMS software should include the following:

  • Develop and maintain training materials for the mining operation.
  • Efficient and simple communication channels between all stakeholders in the training operation.
  • Manage both internal and external learning resources such as instructors, equipment, and places of instruction.
  • Provide training for both pre and post-training assessment for trainees. 
  • Reporting to provide continual training improvements for future courses to both staff and trainees.

Managing Miner Education with a Training Management System

You may be thinking, “Can’t I manage training for my mining operation using my LMS”?

While it’s possible to manage training using some of the features of your learning management system, it isn’t ideal as the LMS just wasn’t purpose-built for managing ILT/vILT

Simply put, the LMS is designed purely to meet the needs of the learner (i.e. miners in training) whereas the TMS is designed to meet the needs of the back-office training team responsible for the training at large. An LMS is great for managing eLearning courses and digital resources, but virtually every LMS on the market requires complex, costly workarounds or customizations to support ILT and vILT.

TMS functions are more focused on managing both instructor-led training and virtual instructor-led training courses, managing large training budgets, and pairing hundreds of instructors, schedules, and learners in one comprehensive system. To learn more about the differences between the two software platforms, take a look at our comprehensive guide detailing the differences between the TMS and LMS and see if you’re mining operation is meeting its training needs.

When you’re choosing a TMS, it’s important to select one with the features and functionality that will support all personnel involved in the training operation from the instructors and training coordinators to the training manager of the mining operation. With the expansion of companies into global mining sites and the use of more sophisticated mining technology in planning and excavation, it’s important to ensure that your TMS is highly adaptable to service your instructors’ needs.

In the mining industry, features and functionality to look for include:

  • A streamlined, user-friendly interface for easy training scheduling
  • Color-coded, drag-and-drop scheduling to easily manage large learner audiences
  • The ability to identify and select a specific instructor according to filters (such as specialism, language, location, or experience level)
  • The ability to select a suitable in-person training location for ILT
  • Integration with online conferencing tools, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, for vILT
  • The ability to allocate resources, such as specialist mining equipment or devices, to training sessions
  • Budget tracking to keep track of your training spend
  • Instructor utilization rate tracking to keep an eye on which instructors are being over or underutilized
  • Communications functionality to enable instructors to communicate with learners (or to allow the system to automatically notify learners about schedule or venue changes)

Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, the good news is that Training Orchestra offers all this and more! 

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