In 2011, I entered the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) to study mining engineering. Like everyone else, I was told that as the baby boomer generation started to retire, the mining industry would need a new wave of people to fill the labour void. But during the four years I spent at CSM, a lot changed in the industry. Commodity prices dropped, companies went bankrupt and many of us soon-to-be graduates that once had a lot of confidence in our careers were left wondering how we would find work during one of the worst downturns the industry has ever seen.
With the economic downturn, finding a job in mining became a much different – and more difficult – task than it had been even a few years earlier. And even when the industry begins to recover, new waves of miners may be ushered into career paths that are anything but “traditional.”
Enter a new kind of worker to the mining industry – the millennial. “Millennial” is the media classification for those of us between the ages of 20 and 36 that sometimes holds a negative connotation. Millennials are often viewed as arrogant, entitled, lazy and immature.
It is true that we millennial miners are different than our baby boomer predecessors, but it is not because we are entitled or lazy; rather it is because our world is different and so are our resources. We have grown up with access to knowledge virtually at our fingertips. It is a world where one simple idea going “viral” could launch a massive new company and change the world. Technology has enabled us to move, learn and act quicker than ever before.
The technology developed during our lifetime has changed our world, and now we are here to use that technology to change the mining industry in one of its most troubling times. For example, the summer before graduating I stumbled into an internship (and eventual full-time position) in the financial district of San Francisco with a technology company called Alight that does financial forecasting and scenario planning for top-tier mining companies. It is not exactly how (or where) I thought my career might start when learning about underground mining methods a semester earlier, but it has led to incredible opportunities to use technological knowledge to benefit the industry.
As the industry starts to climb out of this recent slump, many believe technology will lead the way, and technologically fluent millennials will be essential to this transformation. For proof of this, we only have to look at one of the most widely known vendors in the mining industry – Caterpillar. The OEM invests over $2 billion a year into research and development, according to their website. And with advances to its Cat MineStar fleet management system, Caterpillar is not purely a truck or loader company, it is also a tech company, and is probably doing it with a little millennial help.
Do not underestimate us for the conveniences we have been afforded; embrace the opportunity this knowledge brings with it. Embrace the fact that because we have always been able to learn anything we want very quickly, we may have new ideas that the industry would have never thought of. Embrace our knowledge the way that we will embrace yours and, together, we can continue to drive our industry (and the technology that will fuel it) forward in the near and distant future.
Brandon Gill is product manager for Alight Mining Solutions, a division of Alight, Inc., which provides cloud-based applications for real-time financial forecasting and scenario analysis to a number of industries in dynamic markets.
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