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Australia’s mining industry contributes $121 billion to the country’s economy each year. Despite this huge figure, a report released in 2014 by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Mining for efficiency, listed Australia as the second least productive mining region in the world, second only to Africa.

Our mining boom of recent years set the scene for volume strategies that neglected true efficiency for people and equipment.

Worldwide the industry’s open cut equipment productivity has declined by 20% over the past seven years despite the demand for increased volumes. As a result, Australia’s declining productivity is one of the most important challenges for our economy.

Australia is the fastest growing nation in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with strong growth projections for the next 40 years. As the population ages, we will see a reduction in the available workforce to retired persons ratio by almost two people in the same time period.

So what does this mean for the geospatial industry and how do we redress the productivity and workforce shortfall in Australia? We cannot keep doing things as they’ve always been done and expect a different outcome, so the solution lies in smarter technology and helping to empower the next generation of Australia’s workforce: Gen Y, otherwise known as the ‘Millennials.’

The Millennials

Gen Y or the Millennials were born between 1980 and 2000 and they are now entering Australia’s workforce in vast numbers. This generation will work to support a significantly larger older generation as life expectancy increases.

What drives and motivates this generation in their career development differs greatly from previous generations. For Millennials, the opportunity for rapid career progression and to widen their experience are often viewed as more important than salary alone.

This generation also sees technology as a key factor in their choice of employer, with 59% of respondents in a 2011 PwC survey, Millennials at work- Reshaping the workplace, noting that the provision of state-of-the-art technology was important to them.

Gen Ys are great at working collaboratively in a team environment, they excel at multitasking and have a thirst for new experiences and information. They also crave feedback and praise for a job well done, whilst tending to resist the structured work environment in favour of increased flexibility and a more dynamic, relaxed workspace.

If their career development needs aren’t met, Millennials are swift to move on to new opportunities and are less loyal to their employer than previous generations, making the best of them difficult to find and even harder to keep.

Geospatial employers need to respond to their needs with regular feedback and rewards for their Gen Y employees. They must also encourage innovation and challenge Gen Ys to streamline processes, exercise their creativity and collaborate and network with their peers. 

A robust mentoring program between senior management and the younger employees will also help to bridge the generational divide and keep Gen Ys engaged and motivated.

And last but certainly not least, geospatial companies need to embrace the latest technology and task their young employees to constantly find newer and better ways to increase efficiency and productivity.

A constant state of change

Most of us are acutely aware of, even overwhelmed and intimidated by, the rapid development of technology in today’s world. Not only is technology being developed at an ever increasing pace, it is also being adopted more quickly. Television took 13 years to become mainstream; Facebook took nine months! Every year the TVs get bigger, computers get faster and the world becomes more connected than ever before.

The rate of smartphone adoption among international users has out-paced the 1980s PC revolution, the 1990s Internet boom and the social networking craze.

In the geospatial industry, we’ve seen dramatic changes to technology advancement, particularly in the last 20 years with the development of Electronic Distance Measurement (EDM), robotic total stations and the ability to capture mass data.

The first laser scanning technology was introduced in the late 1990s and now 3D laser scanners are lighter, faster, smaller, cheaper and easier to use. As a result, the technology is becoming more widespread and adopted by multiple industries as complimentary technology such as 3D printing is democratised. New handheld laser scanning technology opens up the possibilities yet further, with design, engineering and architectural professionals eager to streamline their workflow with technology.

Companies like Google are heavily involved in spatial technology, having pushed for and shaped the development of modern mobile mapping and scanning technology for online mapping. The company’s Tango project makes smartphones spatially aware, recording 250,000 points a second to understand the local 3D environment.

The development of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) has had a far-reaching impact across multiple industries, from crop monitoring for farmers through to natural disaster assistance for the emergency services, professional videography for the media through to hobbyist photography for consumers. For geospatial and mining professionals it offers an efficient, safe way to survey large, inaccessible or dangerous terrain. 

Ascending Technologies are pushing the boundaries in this space with the ability to give robots the power to see and adapt in real time to their environment, as seen in this video of a UAV travelling at five metres per second through a forest, completely autonomously. 

Software has also morphed into subscription-based, Cloud hosted environments with a focus on team collaboration and the ability to connect seamlessly with related platforms. Autodesk is currently collaborating with Microsoft for holographic imagery and the ability for it to co-exist with the real world – overlaying the hologram with a real-life model as seen in this video. 

Machinery used in the agriculture, construction and mining industries to increase accuracy has developed from laser-guided systems to fully automated GNSS technology. In addition to increasing accuracy to grade, measurement systems for haul monitoring, telematics technology for remote support or tracking applications, and site management systems give managers real-time information at their fingertips to help make proactive decisions and save costly rework.

Leap or be dragged

A great example of what’s possible when great technology meets Gen Y collaborative thinking was demonstrated in 2011 when a group of gamers playing a protein-folding online game called Foldit were able to decode a complex enzyme structure that had baffled scientists for more than 15 years. It took the gamers three weeks to solve the puzzle and make a significant contribution to AIDS research.

Australian industry, and the mining sector specifically, must look at new ways to do things if we are to breach the productivity divide. By actively seeking out employees that can bring innovation and a fresh perspective to streamline workflows, in addition to adopting the latest technology, companies have much to gain. As Peter Drucker said, “the best way to predict the future, is to develop it.”

Author: Cameron Waters, National Survey Product Manager at Position Partners.

Millennials at work – Reshaping the workplace, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, 2011: https://www.pwc.com/m1/en/services/consulting/documents/millennials-at-work.pdf 

Mining for efficiency, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, 2014: http://www.pwc.com.au/industry/energy-utilities-mining/assets/Mining-Efficiency-Aug14.pdf 

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