Training for the future

HOGSBACK reckons the days are coming when a good miner will need to be fluent in at least one coding language. Forget the sweat and hard yakka of years gone by, miners will increasingly rely on computer programming and artificial intelligence to make their mining operations function at their best.
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This week two of Australia's largest coal mining companies reported solid September quarter production results and plans for continued production outperformance with the help of optimised equipment performance.

Anglo American's September quarter metallurgical coal production increased 22% to 6.6 million tonnes due to improved wash plant throughput and equipment efficiency, as well as the timing of longwall moves.

The company invested big in automation and equipment monitoring at its Grosvenor and Moranbah North longwall mines in Queensland and it is paying off.

That is a relief when you consider Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani once had the company's entire coal business on the block.

Whitehaven Coal reported it had increased its September quarter production 22% to 4.4 million tonnes of run-of-mine coal with the help of the longwall at its Narrabri mine in NSW.

Whitehaven CEO Paul Flynn said the company's new higher capacity longwall chock legs had started to arrive at Narrabri, ahead of the changeout later this year when the company would install higher capacity cylinders to help build resilience against cyclical weighting events.

He said the autonomous haulage evaluation program at its Maules Creek open cut mine in NSW was also entering the final stage of technical testing and commissioning in Q2 FY20.

This upsurge in automation and electronic sophistication in mining reminds Hogsback of the days when electronic fuel injection first arrived in the family car and there were not enough mechanics around who understand how to fix it when things went wrong.

The mining workforce of the future is going to have to be agile, flexible and tech savvy to deal successfully with this new equipment.

A large proportion of the minerals workforce is highly skilled: 67% hold a Certificate III level qualification or higher, above the national average; more than 4% of the workforce is apprentices and trainees, and one in five workers also hold a bachelor degree or higher.

With demand for skilled workers growing across Australia as the mining production boom continues, the Minerals Council of Australia is advocating for more flexible, higher quality and responsive training and workforce development to build the minerals workforce of the future.

MCA CEO Tania Constable said delivering a flexible, functional and fluid tertiary education system at the post-secondary vocational education and training and higher education level is critical to meeting the skills needs of the sector, especially as specialist skills associated with innovation and technology adoption increase.

"The future minerals workforce will be more diverse, geographically distributed and digitally connected," she said.

"As the nature of work changes and evolves, workers will need skills and capabilities that are adaptable, transferable and relevant to the needs of the future economy."

According to Constable the recommendations in the review of the Australian Qualifications Framework conducted by Professor Peter Noonan will be a major step forward in the delivery of job-ready graduates from both VET and higher education providers if accepted by the federal government.

In particular, Noonan's recommendation that "microcredentials" be recognised to allow providers to offer short, highly-targeted courses to students and employers looking to fill a skills gap without getting bogged down in red tape would be an important part of a renewed and reinvigorated education system.

The review also recommends the diversity of post-secondary education be recognised and reworked and to offer clear and flexible entry and exit points, as well as pathways within and between VET and higher education.

Hogsback reckons anything that can be done help miners adapt and learn technology-based skills will be most welcomed at the coal face.