OPINION | Before chasing artificial intelligence, develop human capital writes Malcolm Curor

While reams of conversation about the promise that Artificial Intelligence (AI) holds for the mining sector, a robust industry first demands the development of human capital said United Manganese of Kalahari (UMK) chief executive Malcolm Curor. 

Presently, Curror said, there is a skills deficit in the sector. “Mining, particularly with a view to growing demand for metals like manganese and other resource drivers of the green economy, must gear up for exponential growth over the next three decades,” he said, “And at the moment there is a marked skills shortage amongst artisans, technicians and engineers who are in demand globally.”

This is where positive disruption should start, said Curror. “To embrace and embolden the African mining industry, we should solve immediate challenges like the skills shortage first, and contemplate the positive role that mining must continue to play socio-economically.”

And while many miners suggest that AI or artificial intelligence is a panacea for an industry that’s finding its feet in a new world order, Curror disagrees. “It must rather be viewed as a tool to enhance human performance,” he said. 

While AI could introduce greater efficiencies in mining, across the value chain, aid in the analysis of data and process large amounts of it faster than humans can, miners are still some giant leaps away from other artificial interventions. “And, in South Africa, there is great impetus to retain human function given the labour-driven economy that many families depend on, along with our already high unemployment figures.”

The mining sector must simply attract more experienced or qualified candidates, he said. “In the past resource extraction might have earned a reputation as a somewhat dirty business. But with most organisations now exercising responsible mining practices and the growing need to fuel the economy, it is our duty as an industry to shape careers in the sector into attractive options and then, opportunity.”

Addressing the need is crucial for South Africa’s greater economic growth and a potential path to recovery after years of slowed growth. “industry collaboration is crucial to achieve many of the milestones along an uncharted roadmap,” said Curror. “In many ways it’s only the notion of what a likely future for the resource sector could look like, as disruptions in environment, geopolitical affairs, healthcare and other unknown factors are shaping our journey on a daily basis.” 

The only constant, he said, are the skills and the human capital along with it, that every miner knows underpins present and future success.

By Malcolm Curor – (UMK) chief executive

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