People Vs. Robots: Mining Industry Focuses on Automation as COVID-19 Crisis Lingers

COVID-19 has affected the phosphate rock market, currently valued at about 6850.4 million US$, in three main ways: by directly affecting production and demand, by creating supply chain and market disruption, and by its financial impact on firms and financial markets. The coronavirus pandemic has significantly disrupted the worldwide economy and the mining industry has not been immune by the new business conditions. The impacts of COVID-19 on mining companies has included shutting in of mines, lack of international sales market, working inventories down, or also reevaluation of noncore operations and underperforming operations.
The US Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has listed mineworkers as essential critical infrastructure workers and deemed miners vital to the national effort against the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Earlier in April, the National Mining Association (NMA) applauded the inclusion of mineworkers in the list. NMA CEO and President Rich Nolan said: “Mining underpins every aspect of our economy, providing the metals, minerals and coal that are essential to nearly every sector identified as critical infrastructure under DHS’ CISA National Infrastructure Protection Plan. It was gratifying to see DHS reiterate the importance of our industry during this crisis.” The US mining is deemed essential but some parties would like to shut mining down due to the continuting virus spread concern.
Meanwhile, about 20% of people currently working in the mining and metals industry are at risk of being replaced by robots as companies accelerate the adoption of automation in light of the ongoing COVID-19-related restrictions, a new study shows. According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) latest “Future of Jobs” report, 79% of mining companies are accelerating the digitalization of work processes and adoption of tools, such as video conferencing. From that total, 26.3% are speeding up the automation of tasks. While the figures are below global averages — 50% of companies are accelerating automation and 84% digitization — they show an ongoing shift towards how to mine and by who. The report identifies technology proficiency, analytical thinking, creativity and flexibility as the top skills mining employers are looking for when it comes to hiring and replacing workers.
By 2025, automation and a new division of labour between humans and machines will disrupt 85 million jobs globally in medium and large businesses across 15 industries and 26 economies, the experts warn. Roles in areas such as data entry, accounting and administrative support will continue to decrease while demand for professionals in automation and digitization will continue to surge. The digitalization agenda of miners has strained relations with the unions, who fear the need for manual labour will fall to a minimum.