What can the Australian resources industry do to attract and retain the new breed of young professional? One thing is for sure writes Energy & Mining Group Director Emanuel Gherardi, “We need to use them or we are going to lose them.”
Now it’s not every day that I get to feel like the young blood, the rookie, the upstart, the pup, the…………you get the picture.
You see a few months back I was sitting in a WA Mining Club committee meeting and as I was looking around the boardroom table, it dawned on me; as an almost 20-year veteran of the mining industry, sitting around this table of highly experienced and highly regarded industry professionals, I was exactly that. I was the least experienced industry professional in the room….and I’ve got to say I didn’t mind feeling like the young buck again after so long in the wilderness, not one little bit, but after the sweet delusion subsided and the reality of being a middle-aged, father of two returned, it hit me, it hit all of us…… Houston, wait that’s oil & gas. Pilbara…. we have a problem.
Now, as most of the people reading this will be aware, diversity and inclusion is at the core of what drives me both personally and professionally, heck I’ve founded a business that specialises in it. Being involved with the WA Mining Club has allowed me to sit around a table of like-minded professionals that have the best interests of the club and the mining industry at heart. Individually and as a group we have shared values with diversity and inclusion sitting somewhere near the very top of that list.
I’d love to take credit for what has unfolded since but the crew on the committee were already a few steps ahead of me and when the penny dropped that we have no professional representation on our board from what we deem to be “the millennial generation”, in true WA Mining Club fashion we went to work to initiate, engage and connect. What has unfolded since has been so very interesting and from it the WA Mining Club Young Professionals initiative was born.
So, what did we learn on that day? First and foremost, it was a timely and all too familiar reminder that diversity is NOT just about having more females or indigenous candidates in the workforce. These are but two categories of human beings and a by-product of a more diverse workplace culture is that we will organically have more females and indigenous representation. I’m not understating the importance of these categories, I’m merely saying we will reach our objectives as a by-product of good strategy in diversity as a whole. The aim must be diversity of thought and how do we get that? Well one very important and often missed strategy is to gain greater representation from those we would deem to be the younger generation of professionals in our industry and then actively giving these individuals a voice, an opportunity to influence and a platform to lead.
“The greatest risk we face with our industry’s young professionals is that if we don’t use them, we will lose them. Nothing is more certain. Great people do not hang around waiting for opportunity to come knocking. They bash down the door themselves. Let’s make sure it’s not locked”
It’s also become abundantly clear that our issue is one that is mirrored throughout the mining industry. As an industry we are quite clear that we face a substantial challenge in attracting new talent. This is no more evident than it is at grassroots level (school, tafe and university) with the lowest intakes to mining related studies in decades and that includes STEM. Our challenge is one of perception and we are generally perceived by potential talent at high school and tertiary level as archaic, dirty, socially irresponsible and an industry where cronyism runs rife. In my experience this is misinformed and grossly inaccurate. The mining industry I know is innovative, dynamic, progressive and working it’s guts out to be socially responsible and inclusive. But we need to be honest with ourselves, we have an image problem and it seems our target audience doesn’t want to hear the pitch from someone of my vintage, a quarter of a century their senior (insert sad face here). The solution? Much like in the workforce itself, if younger professionals don’t see their demographic represented in the positions they are striving to achieve, the kids that we are trying to attract see the divide between me and them as one as big as the Indian ocean. The result, well to them it must just feel like a square peg round hole situation, long before they have developed the words to articulate it. There’s no telling how a group of our best and brightest up and comers with a spring in their step and a sparkle in their eye might be able to connect with the aspiring student.
Other than the issue of attracting people to the industry why bother with an initiative like this you might ask? Well other than the fact that diversity and inclusion is a great indicator as to our level of humanity and decency, the bottom line, quite simply, is that it’s great business. It makes us as individuals, as organisations and as an industry more dynamic, productive, innovative, creative and engaged. The sum of all of this is that we are a more attractive proposition for our customers. If we are represented by all demographics we will naturally have a greater capacity to understand our customers and a greater capacity to deliver.
Then there’s the all too familiar discussion around how we, as an industry, can attract and retain the very best and brilliant talent that the world has to offer without losing them to the likes of Google and Facebook. As I’ve already mentioned, if those we are trying to attract don’t see their kind in the positions they aspire to reach, then it just doesn’t seem feasible that they might be able to get there themselves. We need to give them a seat at the table and give them a voice. Young people thrive on opportunity and the old tired adage of “well no one went out of their way to give us a leg up when we first started, we had to cut our own way through, it took resilience” …. and the list goes on, is entirely redundant. If it worked, we wouldn’t have the issue around attraction that we do now. Times aren’t a changin, they have changed, and we need to change with them. Try the tough love approach at your peril. That future leader or executive we’re sizing up might just be the person you read about in a future Australian Financial Review article discussing the latest and greatest Tech start up. The greatest risk we face with our industry’s young professionals is that if we don’t use them, we will lose them. Nothing is more certain. Great people do not hang around waiting for opportunity to come knocking. They bash down the door themselves. Let’s make sure it’s not locked”
So, you might ask, what does the young professional look like and why are they good for my business and culture? Well, to quote the Chair of the WA Mining Club’s young professionals initiative Samantha Ware “We need to stop looking at the millennial problem and look at the millennial solution.” In my experience they’re smart as a whip, intrinsically motivated with genuine ambition, great lateral thinkers, super educated (most millennials have a degree), and as part of a greater team, they collaborate, they’re tenacious, optimistic, flexible and less resistant to change, they value your feedback and need I go into the benefits of having a generation that doesn’t just understand technology but created it. In addition to all of these great traits, what really gets me excited is what can only be described as a real motivation for cultural engagement; they care about doing the right thing, they’re ethical, charitable and care about the bigger picture. That all sounds like great business to me.
Ok, so hopefully by this stage we’re convinced there is a massive upside for both business and industry in having a culture that engages and connects with our up and coming young professionals. So, what can we, as the more senior and experienced members of the industry do, to help and support the new generation other than employing them? Well influencing change needs to happen in the workplace, on the street and at the industry event where we get to learn about the greater industry and its key players. I believe we have a professional obligation to nurture the next generation if we are to sustain the Australian mining industry and guarantee its future. I say let’s go into our next networking event, board meeting, operations meeting, any darn meeting with a different attitude and recognise that our role is to share our knowledge and experience, as the beneficiaries of a wonderful industry and for the most part a golden period. Let’s make them feel welcomed. Let’s be……inclusive.
What I see at industry events doesn’t always represent this and I know it’s not intentional. I’m as guilty as the next person. Human behaviour lends itself to mixing with, and greeting those, we already know or those from our own demographic and peer group. It’s not always commonplace that people introduce themselves to someone outside of their comfort zone at these events and if we look at it from a newcomer’s perspective, if they go to a new event and no one speaks to them……what are the chances they’ll return? Or if they attend and they’re only one of a sprinkling of younger attendees will they feel like this is really the place for them or might it be a bit intimidating? Let’s work hard to not make a young person a novelty in our industry and its events, let’s connect and network with them and who knows, we may just learn something ourselves.
The emergence of the young professionals sub-committee has seen the election of a body of four impressive and high achieving young professionals. They have quickly gone about creating a culture of their very own and at the top of their agenda; engaging their peer group and supporting an inclusive environment that makes all of the club’s activities easily accessible. Already on their charter is the creation of an affordable membership offering with unfettered access to all of the clubs many benefits as well as fostering an environment where both senior and more junior members are able to integrate, socialise, communicate and connect at industry events, all of this on a foundation of diversity, leadership, social responsibility and integrity which just happen to be their core values.
The experience has certainly motived me as a business owner to adopt the same strategy internally and with some exciting young professional initiatives starting to pop up within the industry globally, my hope is that the promotion of a young professional culture becomes the new norm right here in Australia. The latest learnings in the field tell us that diversity will come from the less traditional sources, with business and industry acknowledging that not only is there plenty of room on the table for everyone but that the new generation well and truly deserve a seat. I say scooch over, I for one can’t wait.
For more information on the wonderful work that the WA Mining Club’s Young Professionals sub-committee is doing and for their upcoming events including their first event on the November 21 please visit http://waminingclub.asn.au/about-us/young-professionals/
Emanuel Gherardi is a co-founder of Energy & Mining Group, the industry’s pre-eminent Diversity and Inclusion recruitment specialist, he sits on the committee of the WA Mining Club, is the young professional’s portfolio lead, scholarships sub-committee member and a 20-year WA mining industry professional. Article originally published for the WA Mining Club.