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4IR in mining heralds generational change of guard – Gold Fields' Butcher - Mining Weekly

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Along with the adoption of technologies needed for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) could potentially come a change in the type of jobs being created in the mining industry, gold miner Gold Fields technical executive VP Richard Butcher has said.

Speaking during the Joburg Indaba's Modernisation in Mining event on February 24, he said that, globally, those employed in industries that are to be most impacted by 4IR are concerned about losing their jobs to machines and automation.

However, Butcher says people have to look at the situation fairly, because at the same time that 4IR is being embedded in industries, and especially mining, a lot of people are leaving their mining jobs because, for the most part, they are reaching retirement age. He alludes that although this means some people will be replaced by robots, new vacancies will become available as the older generation exits their positions.

Nonetheless, Butcher says another issue is that mining jobs, especially the dangerous underground type, are becoming less and less sought-after by the younger generation that is slowly replacing vacancies left by the older generation. He says the younger generation shy away from labour-intensive jobs, alluding to them instead seeking other, potentially office-bound jobs that employ some form of digitalisation.

In addition, people from demographics not historically associated with physical mining jobs are the ones currently vying for such positions, including women and what Butcher says are "other groups which never really wanted to work in the mining industry".

As the mining industry implements digitalisation, mechanisation, automation and robotics into its daily operations, he says skills are also changing in that more "softer" skills are coming through. These include digital skills, remote operating skills and human resources skills making for what Butcher says is a "human skills transition".

The industry is transitioning away from "hard operating environments" and instead towards "softer, factory-type environments".

As such, Butcher says the working environment is adapting, as is the "generational dynamic" associated with mining jobs. 

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