Shifting skill sets
Operating in remote, often dangerous areas means the organisation faces problems when attracting talent. “As a mining company, we need to go where the assets are – and you don’t find those in the centre of London or New York, they’re in remote locations,” reveals Bague, adding that emerging talent usually wants to live and work in an urban environment, so making remote sites attractive can be difficult.
Rather than seeing this as a problem, Bague believes this enables Rio Tinto to come up with new ways of managing the workforce – a prospect he is excited by. “I love having discussions around new workforce models and how that will lead to changes in the workforce, in the midand long-term,” he says.
One way Bague anticipates the workforce changing is through automation – and in Perth, Australia, for example, Rio Tinto has driverless trains in its mines. “Often people translate this as simply an effort to reduce cost,” he says. “Yes, that’s important but you need to look at the root cause of these costs – it’s almost impossible to get people to those remote locations. Instead of having a truck driver at a mine 2,000km away from their home, if we can hire people to oversee not one, but several, trucks from a distance, this will reduce risk, improve safety and create a more efficient operation.”
As a result of this shift towards automation, Bague anticipates the skills Rio Tinto requires in the future will alter dramatically. “We didn’t typically have robotic skills in mining, but we need these going forward, so there’s a whole area of different skill sets to tap into and develop,” he says.
When it comes to workforce planning, Bague is clear that a short-term approach is no longer sufficient for a business operating in such a fast-changing context, so his team is working on establishing a predictive talent model looking not only at current demands but also future supply.
“Establishing a pipeline based on current talent needs is useless. They will change dramatically in the next five to 10 years, so we need to get in front of that and ensure we develop talent for what we need today, but also tomorrow.”
Regarding changing workforce demographics, however, Bague is less concerned about the concept of an ‘ageing workforce’ and more about the ability of his workforce to be engaged. “We have people working for us who are 70 years old – you wouldn’t believe their dedication and enthusiasm. You could have a 30 year old working for you who doesn’t know why they are there. It’s not about age, but passion.
“Recently we had a guy who retired at 74 after working for us as a truck driver for 50 years. You can say ‘how can someone do that job for 50 years?’ – it’s passion. This man was so passionate about what he was doing and the company, that he didn’t want to retire. He came to work every day with love and passion and dedication. That’s what we need to drive for with every employee.”