Industry talent war just beginning: EY

THE ‘war for talent’ which emerged during the mining boom is now more complicated than ever, according the author of a new Ernst and Young report.
Industry talent war just beginning: EY Industry talent war just beginning: EY Industry talent war just beginning: EY Industry talent war just beginning: EY Industry talent war just beginning: EY


Jack McGinn

The aptly-named It is only a ceasefire – the war for talent will continue report discusses productivity in the industry as economic impacts begin to force the hands of employers in relation to their workforce.

The report warns the industry against responding to the current economic cycle without considerable assessment of the talent on-hand, and establishing a clear understanding of the employees who will be of greatest value in the coming years.

Primary author and EY global mining and metals advisory leader Paul Mitchell said it highlighted that more attention needed to be paid to talent retention in the industry.

“The release came about after our annual Business risks in mining and metals report, which is the result of a survey we conduct with a number of mining companies,” he said.

“This year’s report found that talent needs had fallen from number one on the list of perceived risks in 2008 to number nine – we didn’t think this was a fair reflection of the situation.”

He said while in better times the battle for talent was about getting people to work on mines, the challenge was now more about ensuring the right balance of talent was there to lead the sector forward.

“During the skills shortage at the peak of the boom you had situations where companies were hiring plumbers who’d never worked on a mine site to drive trucks — it was a matter of getting anybody to fill the jobs available,” he said.

“Now, as companies navigate through a downturn they need the most capable people in their workforce to get them through the tougher times and into the next part of the cycle.

“In a way you could say the war for talent is only just beginning.”

The role of experience

According to the report those with substantial experience in the mining sector are as important as ever when it comes to the mining down-cycle.

It identifies a deep knowledge of the mining sector, the right skillsets to realise productivity and experience in less prosperous times as the character traits possessed by the experienced which will lead the sector through the current period of turbulence.

“These are the people who have been in the industry for a long time, and have the experience and know-how to lead the way in the current mining climate,” Mitchell said.

“Unfortunately a lot of these people are now in their 50s — they may be thinking of early retirement or moving into other roles. Mining companies need to look at ways they can keep them on.

“Whether it’s a case of offering them the opportunity to work two-weeks on one-week off on a part-time FIFO roster or to be involved remotely and provide their experience that way, it’s important that the experienced people remain involved.”

Tomorrow’s talent

While the retention of experienced employees is considered critical to the industry moving forward, EY warns against withholding opportunities from younger employees.

According to the report, around 15% of the industry’s senior technical experts are approaching retirement age, posing a threat to the supply of skills required in coming years.

It proposes matching senior staff with younger talent in a mentor capacity to ensure a smooth transition once the older workforce, as well as investment in learning and development training initiatives in order to facilitate the next generation.

Mitchell said maintaining the balance between senior and future leaders would be a key for mining companies in coming years.

“It’s about passing on the skills to the younger workers — the senior staff are the people who can train the younger staff and leave the industry better placed to move forward,” he said.

“The people who were employed during the boom aren’t able to pass on the same level of understanding as those who were around before it.”

Forward thinking focus

In order to effectively navigate the downturn, EY is calling for companies to form detail strategies to address talent needs and ensure productivity is gained.

Talent mapping, increased work flexibility, redeployment into other areas, staff development and rewards and labour sharing are some of the areas highlighted within the report.

Mitchell said while mining companies undertook a lot of innovative and commendable employment strategies, they had plenty to learn from the visible results of the reactive planning during the boom era.

“I think the mining industry has been quite innovative with its employment strategies, but like many industries it’s been caught reacting to trends rather than planning for them,” he said.

“Around the skills shortage we saw wages increase dramatically. This wasn’t sustainable, and now they have to work out ways to bring those back down to a more realistic level – we’ll probably see a lot of positions outsourced to contractors.

“As the industry transitions companies have the opportunity to ensure they have the right strategies in place and people on board to see them through the down-cycle and into the next upturn.”

To view the report click here.