There once was a time when mining was as simple as finding a deposit, developing the mine and extracting the metals.  But today, a mining executive must be able to assess factors such as international risk, politics, social commitment and changing technology.

Given the complex nature of mining, the next generation of industry professionals must bring a fresh set of leadership qualities to the forefront as their predecessors begin to retire.   

There are a number of key issues that present significant challenges to the future of the mining industry. According to a report by The Korn/Ferry Institute, those issues include a shrinking pool of key technical talent throughout the industry; the social, environmental and regulatory dimensions of operating large-scale mining operations; and the health and safety issues associated with those operations.

“To stay competitive in a transformed operating landscape, miners must develop bold strategies that accelerate productivity, improve shareholder returns and win investor confidence. The qualities that define long-term success aren’t the same as they once were,” says Jeff Swinoga, EY Canada Mining & Metals Leader.  

As vacant positions continually require leadership to oversee operations in remote, hard-to-reach regions, artificial intelligence and innovation will certainly fuel the need for top talent in these advanced technology areas.

John Byrne, partner of the executive search firm Boyden, explains, “There’s a lot of art in mining, not just science.  Automation and artificial intelligence are going to be critical for the industry moving forward. They will have a direct impact on production costs.”

Even in the midst of a changing industry, mining companies have consistently placed a focus on hiring strong technical talent in engineering, metallurgy and project development, recognizing that those talents are crucial to a successful operation. 

Mining executive Richard Warke compares building a mine to developing a seasoned expert, leader, or executive, acknowledging that the process takes time. 

Explaining further, Richard Warke says, “There are many variables that have to be properly assessed in order for a [mining] project to succeed. A positive outcome requires strong leadership, favourable geology and metallurgy, funding and technical expertise to find and evaluate prospects, skilled labour, social licence and the ability to get the required permits, amongst other factors.”

Richard Warke and other industry execs agree: mining’s future will require its leaders to focus less on how to get things out of the ground and more on sustainability and stakeholder engagement.  This will require industry executives to have backgrounds or education in finance or business management in addition to the traditional skillset.  

However, holding up the hiring process is a limited pool of young up-and-comers in the industry. As the existing talent pool ages, companies are hard-pressed to find successors to their seasoned managers.  To combat the shortage of candidates, current mining execs must be willing to develop the skills of their professionals on the ground or in the field, and doing it quickly to keep up with demand.

One thing is certain, the stakes have never been higher for companies in developing and identifying the new generation of mining executives.