Innovative processes, digital transformation, new operational technologies and an image overhaul will be the main drivers of mining sector growth and productivity going into 2019 and beyond.

These top industry trends have been identified by leading analysts, including Liam Twigger PCF Capital managing director, Ian Parker Hartleys chairman and Nicki Ivory Deloitte partner, as key themes emerging at the WA Mining Club’s Market Outlook panel discussion last week.

Club Vice President and Independence Group NL managing director, Peter Bradford, says miners globally are emerging from a challenging period of reputational damage due to perceptions of stock price under-performance, fractious community relations and a lack of workforce diversity.

But he says there are clear signs of renewed optimism across the sector on the back of efforts to improve engagement with the community and future workforce, promote industry innovation and boost collaboration.

“In the coming year, we will need to maintain this momentum by using novel approaches in our dealings with stakeholders and the general public, planning for changing work practices and identifying the commodities likely to be in greatest demand,” he said.

“At the same time, digital and automation boundaries are likely to be pushed harder and faster.”

Mr Bradford says to address this would require a change in mindset from focusing on short-term cash flow generation to ensuring adequate funding for – and monitoring outcomes from – new innovations in the longer-term, as well as for exploration to find the mines of the future.

“While the mining majors have been investing in automation and technology innovation for several years, rapid advances and falling costs are now making it practical and achievable for minor players to also harness its power to a greater extent,” he says.

“This will transform core mining processes, information flows and workforce and operational efficiencies. There is potential to then improve planning, control, and decision making, optimise volume, cost and capital expenditure and improve safety. New technology also unlocks the potential to explore deeper.”

Mr Bradford says the nature of work at mine sites and in back offices is on the verge of major transitional change driven by automated equipment, remote operations centres, RPA and the creation of more agile organisational operating models and management.

“As this unfolds, there is potential for impact on ‘social licence to operate’ for mining organisations and the reputation of the broader sector,” he says.

“The industry in Australia – and globally – will need to tackle its image problems in a world driven by round-the-clock news cycles and opinions aired in the court of social media – as backlash can quickly spiral.”

Mr Bradford says clear strategies will be needed for miners to better sell their efforts in supporting and sustaining economic growth, remediating environmental damage, creating employment, investing in infrastructure and improving access to education and training.