Turning coal-mining challenges into diamond opportunities

December 6, 2016 Katy Roberts

In a recent study, Deloitte highlighted 10 of the biggest challenges facing the mining industry today. But the points raised in the study remained 2nd hand. That was until Talmix independent consultant, and mining-industry expert Andrew Johnson shared his personal consulting experiences within this demanding industry, and demonstrated just how those challenges are changing the way organisations operate to survive.

Having served the mining sector for over 30 years, Andrew has worked both under- and over-ground, and throughout his extensive career has worked within the corporate sector, and now more recently, as an independent consultant. 

Throughout his career, Andrew has realised that a lot of the organisations that he has worked with recognise that they need outside help. And as the industry has matured, what used to be luxury is now becoming a cost-saving exercise.  Mining organisations all over the world are on the drive to become more productive, more efficient businesses. So what are some of the challenges facing them and how are independent consultants like Andrew making a difference?

Changing old tactics to deliver better results 

“I’ve seen it all,” Andrew mentions. “Working for 17 years for Anglo American was a great opportunity for me – albeit more corporate than the career path I eventually chose, I’ve seen the industry adapt out of necessity. Within the past 10 years, substantially so. Things that were traditionally all done in-house, now are entrusted to 3rd party consultancies. Organisations simply do not have the budgets to be able to maintain entire departments who would typically function for only a part of the year.” This is particularly relevant to the smaller mining companies who have adapted to an on-demand business model where they simply pay for what they need. And it’s through these changes, and the expertise built up by many mining professionals that incorporating the use of independent consultants within organisational strategies has become the norm.  New ways to engage with stakeholders, finding new ways to attract capital, strengthening and managing constantly evolving industry risks has become the new normal and the mining industry has realised that without embracing the new, there is very little room for survival. 

Expertise gap and a changing demographic

In a separate study published by SME (Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration), it was noted that by 2019 the mining industry will need almost 80,000 extra replacement workers due to retirement (total of 128,000 new positions will be required by 2019).  “I’ll be retiring within a few years,” Andrew says. “But as long as I’m able, I will keep going.” Andrew knows that the expertise and knowledge that he has built up is second-to-none, and retirement will not necessarily put an end to the opportunity for him to keep helping organisations develop and overcome their challenges. In fact, for many experts like Andrew, these very skills will only become increasingly valuable as the market continues to develop. 

“There is a very definite gap between those people who have worked through the system and are close to retirement, and the younger generation fresh out of university.  Consulting within the mining industry requires you to have had some kind of hands-on experience. That’s why consultants who graduate from university and head straight towards computer-based consulting don’t often survive. They haven’t experienced the practicality of their subject matter.” So how are companies getting around this? They are actively using experts like Andrew to mentor and train the younger generation of consultants who are dipping their toes into the mining market. “It’s not about dictating to them how things need to be done, but rather guiding them through things based on your own personal experiences.”

When niche is too niche.

Andrew has served most of his career within the coal mining industry, diversifying his skills where possible to ensure that he was able to adapt when he needed to. “I think the challenge that a lot of my peers face is that as their careers developed, they would build their expertise within the industry that was most popular at the time. During the early 80s, coal-mining was everywhere and work opportunities were perfect for someone who was looking to develop a career specialising in coal.  As the opportunities developed, you’d simply keep gravitating towards them. I was lucky, however, that I was able to diversify my skills towards the diamond market which allowed me to transfer a lot of the knowledge I’d built up. Many of my colleagues were not quite as lucky,” he tells me.  With the experienced skills and expertise now forming the top seniority level of the industry, it has become even more important for consultants to diversify themselves. “There are definitely some parts of mining which will benefit from transferrable skills. Things like blasting techniques, geology and increased productivity of product haulage may share common ground when it comes to consultancy skills. More often than not, mining organisations simply need advice on how to solve a problem, than solving that specific problem for them. One can’t be a cure for all issues, but having transferrable skills means that you’re able to look at it pragmatically and find a suitable solution – even if it is to refer someone within your network who could help”. 

The world of work is changing. To take advantage of skills and expertise like Andrew’s, it’s time that you embrace a new normal. It’s time that you talk to Talmix about your next project.  

About the Author

Katy Roberts

Katy is an independent marketing consultant and founded Fresh Brew Marketing out of her love for the cuppa. A seasoned marketer, Katy writes for several global publications and provides outsourced marketing services to businesses throughout the UK. She is a keen geocacher and rates running around in city centres dressed in Christmas lights as one of her most successful Social Media campaigns to date.

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