How to make resource extraction resonate with the next generation of talent.
2022 has been a lesson in how quickly the global economic outlook can change — and how quickly priorities can be turned on their heads.
The conversation around the resource extraction sector is a prime example of that flipped narrative. Just a year ago, mining and drilling were under perpetual gray skies, still the dirty secret powering progress and modernization. Fast forward a year and the story has evolved into one powered by moonshot ambitions — to achieve new heights of global security and freedom from unsavory resource dependencies.
The sector now stands in the enviable position of being able to recast itself for the next age, to shift gears from value protection to value creation. If we can capitalize on this good will and renewed enthusiasm, mining might redefine its place in the global, social and economic spheres, not as a legacy industry needing to be reined in, but as one of enduring pioneer spirit — rising to the challenges of the new world.
In doing so, we’ll also be winning over the next generation of resource sector talent and executive leaders.
KNOW THE PROBLEM
Mining too often finds itself on the moral back foot.
Market volatility, government regulation, political activism, inclusion and diversity issues, and the environment jostle each other for primacy as the urgent dilemma for us to tackle. Of course these issues aren’t unique to our industry, though many of the complicating factors are.
There has not been a great deal of latitude granted us in meeting these challenges, even as we’re expected to feed the insatiable appetite for what our efforts extract. All the while, we confront the realities of our increasingly dwindling resources (both human and raw).
The next decade will be a defining one for mining. As ever, the work will be hard, the constraints rigorous — even as fewer and fewer people rise to the test of doing it. Just as the pressures on our sector multiply, we are experiencing a critical deficit of the talent needed to steward us through to this next era.
That deficit is, at least in part, a failure of imagination and storytelling. For too long, we’ve let our stories be told by outsiders. And because we often disliked how those stories have been told, we’ve left those buzzing narrators to their own devices.
We knew what we did was crucial and simply got on with the work.
But that stoicism and pragmatism ignored the looming threat, that a generation raised exclusively on tales of our industry’s flaws — never exposed to its bracing challenges or grit — would be unlikely to seek their fortunes there.
“The brand of mining is dead,” former president of the Canadian Institute of Mines, Pierre Julien, once said. “Mining is defined as the ‘practice of digging substances out of the earth.’ Is that all we do? We do a lot more than that but we continue to tell society that we dig holes.”
Of course, the rewards in mining aren’t insignificant. But neither are those in tech. And that sector weaves compelling narratives better than any other (that and the winning fringe benefit of free snacks).
But tech is not intrepid in the way mining is. There’s a powerful story in that, one that goes right back to the origins of our industry. We need to figure out how to reframe that narrative for the future of the sector.
If we want to meet the next generation of mining talent, we have to place them at the center of an adventure they want to be a part of. And that means telling a different sort of story.
DECLARE THE MISSION
The industry has come a long way in the last two decades. As we step up to the challenges of the next, our efforts have never been more innovative or inspired. But those ameliorations of process and policy have not been given their time in the light.
We can demonstrate our resolve to unlock the world’s resources with sustainable keys. But if we can’t tell those stories in ways that resonate with potential mining talent, they might as well not be real.
The same applies to our efforts to connect with local stakeholders and achieve genuine buy-in for our projects. This is important work. If the resource extraction sector has changed how it works with communities, this needs to be highlighted and elaborated on. Token acknowledgements simply won’t cut it with our next gen mining pioneers.
These kids don’t just want to believe that our industry is innovating to address the environmental, social, global security, and governance concerns of the day. They want to know that they can contribute to pushing those objectives forward.
Mining is a “boots on the ground” pursuit. Boldness is welcome. The squeamish need not apply. Fortunately, plenty are up to that challenge. They just need a framing that makes sense to them. They need to know that our objectives are aligned.
So let’s be very clear with them about our mission:
- We want to meet the resource needs of a rapidly evolving and innovating world.
- We want to do that with as little ecological impact as possible, by innovating our methods of extraction, deploying the most sustainable technologies, and investing in offsets.
- We want not only to have support from the communities we work in but to support them — to make lasting contributions to their efforts for betterment.
- We want to make the world safer by reducing its reliance on less than scrupulous actors.
- We want to continue striving to improve in all these areas.
- We want to empower the bold and talented young people who will champion this mission into the next era of mining, and beyond.
If we can open the eyes of a new generation to the adventure, challenges and rewards of this field, show them an industry engaged with the exigencies of the present — taking ownership of past — we can win their hearts for the future.
BE CLEAR ABOUT THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
The mining sector has a long and storied history.
We won’t wade into the details here but we can acknowledge that the pursuit of resources hasn’t always been done in the best interests of stakeholders, or with a light touch. In an industry with a justly high regard for straight talk, it benefits us to be clear on this fact.
We haven’t always made the best choices. We’re making better ones now. The ones we’re making for the future will be even better.
Join us and be a part of that evolution.
INVITE ACTIVISM AND NURTURE CHANGEMAKERS
Activism is part of the landscape now.
We’re not talking about the types of people who lock themselves to fences. Activism is in the investment banks and boardrooms. It’s become part of the global business DNA that we have to contend with. And it most certainly is in the talent pool.
The next generation don’t see issues within the sector as hiccups to be handled as a matter of course. They’re not fools. They see them as priorities that need to be wrestled with. But they’re not naive either. They know that other imperatives are at play.
We do our industry a disservice by not finding a way to invite this energy inside the gates. The future of mining lies with the next generation of problem solvers. Just because they may be focused on a different set of problems doesn’t mean that they’re incapable of solving the ones we have our sights on.
If we bring them into the fold and deploy their enthusiasm to find solutions to the mining challenges of today and tomorrow, we all get what we want. We move a step closer (maybe several) to securing the future health of the industry, society, and the world.
Change isn’t always a bad thing. If we want it working to our betterment and longevity, we need to be nurturing it. The more we do, the more the stories told about our industry will be the kind we’re happy to stand behind — and, more importantly, the more talent we’ll have standing right there beside us.
SUSTAINABILITY ISN’T ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT
Let’s not make the mistake of turning sustainability into a bogeyman when it’s really about finding the equilibrium to keep systems healthy and thriving. That’s as true for the mining sector as it is in any other context. That’s how we confront our dwindling human and raw resources.
Increasingly, we’re seeing this understanding coded into organizational DNAs. New C-suite roles like Chief Sustainability Officer aren’t just a tip of the hat to regulators and climate wonks. They’re part of a sector mobilization to futureproof companies for what comes next.
Particularly in mining, that role covers a lot more than just decarbonization strategies. It’s a comprehensive oversight that encompasses human resource development, risk management, health and safety performance, business diversification, public and community relations, balancing environmental excellence with productivity goals — and, yes, storytelling.
Those responsibilities could well fall under the purview of a CEO or some other titled C-suite role. The takeaway is that this sort of synergistic approach is finding increased currency at the very top of the mining leadership structure.
Companies that don’t take this opportunity to evolve could find themselves outmaneuvered by those that do.
“The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions,” International Energy Association, 2021.
“Abandoned Mines Cleanup Bill Enters Senate,” Miningmagazine.com, 2022.
“CIM 2022: Mining ‘Dead as a Brand,’” Miningmagazine.com, 2022.
Henry Legge et al., “Creating the Zero-Carbon Mine,” McKinsey, 2021.
“Oil Giants Sell Dirty Wells to Buyers with Looser Climate Goals, Study Finds,” The New York Times, 2022.
“Taking ESG seriously: The crucial role of mining investors in the energy transition,” Whitecase, 2022.
“The Future of the Chief Sustainability Officer Sense-Maker in Chief,” Deloitte, 2021.