Talent Management Issues in Mining – Knowledge Transfer and Closing the Skills Gap

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This posting follows from an earlier article that addressed the talent management issues of skills development and employee retention. We look here at the issues of knowledge transfer and closing the skills gap, summarized as follows.

  • The internal talent pool within each company is shrinking as the older generation retires or moves on, and internal procedures for transfer of knowledge and skills to the younger generation are mostly non-existent.
  • Mining schools, with their own difficulties in finding and retaining appropriate faculty, are failing to close the skills gap.

These issues can largely be addressed by the availability of on-demand elearning, as discussed below.

Knowledge Transfer

A rapidly aging baby-boomer generation of managers is about to retire in the mining industry, taking many years of accumulated knowledge and experience with them, making it difficult for companies to fill vacant roles with qualified candidates, and threatening short and long-term growth prospects. There just aren’t enough young mining professionals with 10 to 15 years of mining experience to take-over from retiring baby boomers in management positions. How can we compensate for this?

We can ensure that young professionals are exposed to as much “hands on” training and experience as possible in the limited time frame available. However, this is unlikely to be sufficient since, of necessity, many young professionals are being promoted after only five years on the job.

The second option is to expose young professionals to a large, accessible elearning resource that allows them to rapidly build up their knowledge of mining by taking on-demand online courses in their own time and at their own pace. This facilitates management candidates becoming fully conversant with all of the technologies and situations they will be expected to deal with as managers. Achieving this requires a flexible approach to training since each candidate will potentially require a different training program, depending on his/her background and career objectives, and actual mine site requirements. The cost-effective solution is to integrate elearning into the training program wherever possible since this eliminates the need to travel and minimizes time away from the job.

The biggest advantage of using distance learning in this sort of training context is that it provides the flexibility to accommodate individual candidate requirements as well as site-specific requirements. Courses can be selected to develop or enhance a training program that closely matches the training objectives for the candidate, i.e. training programs are customizable to the requirements of each and every candidate. Online courses can be taken at any time and eliminate the need for travel.

In this way, online courses provide an efficient, accessible platform for knowledge transfer between generations. A single online course by a world class expert is instantly accessible to thousands of young professional all over the world.

Closing the Skills Gap

A longer term solution is required to address the issue of the skills gap that exists between young professionals graduating from mining school and on the job requirements. This is created primarily by a shortage of qualified, experienced faculty with which to build adequate curricula at mining schools around the world, resulting in gaps in every curriculum of one kind or another. One of the best ways to compensate for this is to involve industry specialists in the teaching process wherever possible. However, industry specialists tend to be in great demand and have limited availability.

The solution is to get industry specialists to develop online, on-demand courses that can be accessed by anyone in the global mining community, including mining school faculty and students, at any time…i.e. to dramatically increase the teaching effectiveness and reach of each specialist. These online courses can then be used to fill the gaps in a mining school curriculum by integrating them with traditional face-to-face classroom courses.

There are four key requirements for ensuring that this is a sustainable, cost effective solution.

  • A sustainable business model based on author royalties that makes it attractive for specialists to develop such courses; these can be proportional to the usage or popularity of a course.
  • A lightweight course delivery platform that is effective in remote areas, with low Internet bandwidth and poor communications, where most mining activity occurs. This does not mean that rich content such as video should be excluded but ensures that it is used judiciously.
  • Development of a critical mass of available courses on appropriate mining topics, in collaboration with industry specialists, that allows mining companies to supplement their training programs and mining schools to enhance their curricula … thereby closing the skills gap (see EduMine’s Online Courses).
  • Accreditation and quality control of the courses. Accreditation is achieved by approval from institutions such as the International Association of Continuing Education and Training (IACET), and by acceptance of courses into university programs such as the Certificate in Mining Studies (CMS) at the University of British Columbia.

EduMine courses are currently used by many universities, mining schools and professional associations around the world, as well as many mining corporations.

Simon Houlding is Vice-President of Professional Development for InfoMine Inc., responsible for EduMine, the professional development division which provides learning and training programs to the global mining industry. He is a practicing professional engineer and author.

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