In previous posts I have stressed the challenges the mining industry is already facing in trying to close the “qualified” workforce gap. The following “gap” figures help reinforce the message that this challenge is being seen around the globe:
• 90,000 miners in Australia by 2020 – The Minerals Council of Australia
• 145,000 in Canada by 2023 – Mining Industry HR Council
• 128,000 in US by 2019 – SME (Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration)
• 37,000 in Chile by 2020 – Consejo Minero’s (Chilean Mining Council) Mining Skills Council (CCM)
Besides the gap itself, such conditions bring additional people vs. knowledge management challenges:
• How to empower and motivate current employees and retain them
• Attract young professionals
• Having the professionals up-to-speed to fill the gap created by the retiring experienced workforce
• Doing the job safely
It’s clear that training plays a key role in addressing such challenges; however I believe training strategies need to go beyond classical training classes.
Learning by doing
For skills training, operators can learn more in minutes in a real training environment than in hours of a lecture instruction. The main problem from this approach is the lack of exposure to actual plant or process work in a safe manner (for the personal and the process).
Some studies indicate that “hands-on” activities help students to retain more than 70% of the subject vs. reading or lectures that have less than a 10% retention rate.
For years, aircraft pilots have been training in flight simulators; literally a full size replica of the cockpit and systems artificially creating the flight environment and potential scenarios. So, why not do the same for mineral processing plants?
A high fidelity operator training simulation system is a platform that mimics the real mineral processing plant and will use the same version of control systems and graphics so the trainer can put each operator through a number of scenarios and observe the operator.
Virtual reality (VR) applied to the process plant
This approach goes beyond the control room/process control room simulation; the high fidelity operator training simulation system is coupled with a “virtual” walkthrough plant environment.
The VR allows the whole process to be simulated with full operator interaction and emulates not only the existing control systems, but the physical plant design and layout, and operator consoles
This technology creates an interactive, 3D environment for training, testing, and process simulation. It also allows training and simulation of the plant safety procedures
• Realistic environments for operators and maintenance personal , with the opportunity for practice of procedures in training sessions
• React quickly and correctly in simulated stress situations
• Improve skills for rarely-performed, but safety-critical tasks such as emergency shutdowns
• Optimize the transfer of skills from “off-line” training environments to the work environment
• Reliable and valid evaluation of operational procedures and individual operator performance
• Maximize team training and communications, in the control room, field; by shift and by operations management
Virtualization and technology attracting young professionals
Such technologies clearly will help mining operations to be more productive, safe and sustainable with an interesting side effect…it can help show young professionals that the operation of a mine can be exciting and give them opportunities to work with advanced technologies!