01 December 2022
Thank you for the opportunity to be here today.
I’d like to start by echoing the MC’s respects to the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we meet, and indeed, to the Traditional Owners of the many lands on which BHP operates.
I would also like to acknowledge the Melbourne Mining Club Chair Richard Morrow, Co-Patrons Leigh Clifford and Hugh Morgan, and the MMC Committee, and congratulate you on another terrific year.
And, of course, a big thank you to everyone in the room today for supporting the Melbourne Mining Club, and for your contribution to our industry.
Introduction and context
Today, our industry remains core to the future, as the world seeks to solve some of its greatest challenges.
For BHP, this is core to our purpose, to bring people and resources together to build a better world.
There is no doubt this is an exciting time to be in mining and today I will discuss:
- Why I believe the mining industry is vital to the future
- How innovation and technology is helping solve some of the biggest industry challenges
- And the BHP growth agenda.
But these pieces rely upon and are enabled only with skilled people.
And so, as Chief Technical Officer for BHP, I want to urge you, the leaders of our industry, to consider how we can find ways to get more skilled people in the front door.
In fact, how do we get more people not only in the front door, but in the back door, the side door and lining up and down the street, enthused by the prospect of being a technical guru, solving big technical challenges and doing something for the greater good?
This is our challenge.
But first, given this is the last Melbourne Mining Club lunch of 2022, I want to reflect for a moment on the year we’ve all just had.
Industry perspective – the last 12 months
There has been an obvious dark shadow over much of the world for the last three years.
And this, plus other issues in supply chains, inflation, energy and geopolitics, continues to impact and shape the world.
But there’s a truth about this industry that has been proven yet again this past year.
The resources sector is resilient.
We are innovative.
We have been around for millennia.
And we persevere!
Adversity forces change.
I have to call out the outstanding work by all the technologists in our industry in enabling our remarkable response to the pandemic.
In BHP, we changed how we operated almost in a week – and this most extreme of tests was passed with flying colours.
People across the industry picked up digital in ways they never have before.
We now work more flexibly, and we are more comfortable working and managing remotely.
These changes were coming, but the pandemic catalysed them within our workforces and they are now here to stay.
The technology and innovation ecosystems are a source of inspiration for me.
As a sector, we have barely scratched the surface of what is possible, and we have seen through the BHP Ventures group and BHP Xplor – both ways in which we invite ideas into our organisation – the appetite for innovators and discoverers to engage with us.
This bodes well for the future.
We have emerged a sharper, more focussed industry.
Our industry remains core to the future
Our role as a supplier of many of the commodities the world needs is irrefutable.
Even our critics realise that.
We need to enable the world to achieve the twin aims of decarbonisation and improving living standards for a growing population.
The numbers are compelling, and I’m sure you’ve heard us note them before.
Under our Paris-aligned 1.5 degree scenario analysis:
- Copper production would have to double over the next 30 years, relative to the last 30
- Nickel production would have to increase nearly four-fold over this period
- And the world will need almost twice as much steel in the next 30 years as it did in the last 30, including from demand to build infrastructure such as wind turbines.
We’ve also just recently heard Madeleine King, as Resources Minister, talk about the increasing demand for lithium, cobalt, graphite and rare earth elements, and Jim Chalmers, as Treasurer, quite focused on critical minerals and their processing.
This is a tremendous opportunity for our sector – an energy transition that could drive demand growth beyond a super cycle.
But it is also a substantial responsibility we have, to deliver these commodities safely and more sustainably.
As we seek to deliver on this opportunity, we will need to see huge change in the ways the world works and the tools we use.
And because of that, the jobs we will offer in the future will be different.
This is often described as the fourth industrial revolution. The step change we have to have in automation, data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning. In robotics, electrification and innovation.
For us to seize the opportunity ahead of us, and to meet our responsibilities, will take the very best.
We will need to work together… innovating and driving our technological edge further than before – supporting a new kind of resources workforce.
To pull this future towards us, we must all work to secure the talent and skills we need.
The digital future – safety and productivity
Innovation and technology will continue to solve some of the biggest challenges we have in resources.
Innovations to date have meant our operations are safer.
They are more productive and more efficient than they have ever been.
On safety, for example, we know truck automation greatly reduces the fatality potential in our open cut mines.
Because the single biggest risk for fatalities is eliminated through higher order controls.
We are taking people out of the line of fire.
We have seen the results of this investment.
Where we have implemented truck automation at Jimblebar and Newman, there has been a 90% reduction in near miss events involving vehicles with a fatality potential.
We have extended automation to our fleets in Daunia, South Flank and Goonyella, and are in implementation at Spence and Escondida in Chile.
We expect to see the same results in those operations.
The advance of autonomous haulage by OEMs such as Komatsu and Caterpillar – delivered in partnership with our industry – is delivering a step change in safety by engineering out one of our biggest risks.
We also know that decision automation – using real-time data feeds from on board fleet management systems – provides a more efficient and productive result, shift in and shift out.
When the reliability of the equipment rises; safety improves; maintenance time is reduced.
And I don’t have to tell you that more safe tonnes per hour, and more hours run, means less cost, greater efficiency and less carbon per tonne to produce.
This is the competitive edge we are all after.
But we need people with the ability to drive these outcomes.
Even as we retrain our people to meet the challenges of the new way of operating, we know this will not be enough.
We need more technologists.
More data scientists.
And more mathematicians would you believe.
We compete for such talent not just with each other, but with the cool kids such as Google and Amazon, … the defence and pharmaceuticals industries, government and NGOs… in order to attract and retain the types of people we need for the future.
We must lead the way in developing this future workforce.
As I said before, to pull this future towards us, we must all find ways to secure the talent and skills we need.
Growth will be key
With the volume of commodities needed, growth will be key to our ability to deliver what our customers need.
Growth in our existing production, and growth in the deposits we’re identifying for the future.
It is difficult to find new deposits.
They are becoming deeper, harder to access, in more challenging regions.
We all know how exploration works now.
We identify some promising geology and we start sampling and drilling. This process can be not only invasive but takes time.
There are some amazing new solutions in the technology and innovation and data space that are making this process so much more efficient and less invasive.
At BHP, we use mineral systems methodologies to identify the terrains we think are interesting, and then we can use a range of non-invasive land and airborne-sensing techniques that allow us to better understand the subsurface, both greenfield and brownfield.
New technologies allow us to target drillholes much more effectively.
And the additional detail we can see between drillholes allows more efficient mine planning through more accurate resource characterisation.
This all seems very obvious…
But it is actually quite hard.
We need others to engage with us.
That means we have to embrace new ideas, new ways of working, different ways of thinking…
Not always easy for a company the size of BHP.
But if we want to get the best ideas, bring into our industry the brightest new minds, we have to show up differently.
Importantly, we have to acknowledge we don’t have all the answers.
And so at BHP, we are different today compared with 5 years ago.
We have made investments in start-up companies like Kobold and SensOre in Australia, and SRK and DeepIQ in Chile, who use advanced AI that allows us to widen our search space and cover the ground faster.
These sorts of investments happen through our venture capital arm, BHP Ventures, who get to see some of the most exciting stuff going on in the resources ecosystem.
We are also trialling techniques normally used in the oil and gas industry – such as large scale, deep hard-rock 3D seismic – to provide us with faster and more accurate information about our mineral systems.
A program recently completed over the Olympic Dam area has provided our geologists with a lot of new information that will inform future work, both at Olympic Dam and Oak Dam just down the road.
And it’s perhaps an overlooked asset of ours, but we have a veritable lake of data.
Legacy data gathered over nearly 140 years of operation of BHP, Billiton, and all the other companies that have formed today’s BHP Group.
Much of this is now digitised, and we’re using machine learning tools to leverage that data for our exploration geoscientists with good results.
We also know that opening ourselves up and inviting good ideas in will only make us stronger.
In that spirit, we launched a program called BHP Xplor this past year, looking for new concepts – disruptive concepts – in early-stage minerals exploration that we can help accelerate.
Xplor is a global program that searches for startups in the early exploration stage – by supporting prospectors with innovative and breakthrough ideas to find new mineral deposits.
It merges concepts from both venture capital and early-stage accelerators, offering mentoring and networking.
Implementing the digital technology our teams need
Internally, we have also shifted the way we work to implement the digital technology our teams need.
Our industry generates volumes of data every day.
How we organise, analyse and use this data is important.
Our Technology team has set up Digital Factories for each of our operated assets to find, curate and use the data already available to define new solutions.
Working with the operational customer to deliver minimum viable products fast are agile teams of data engineers, stack developers, cybernetics engineers and software engineers.
Together with product owners, they are changing the relationship of BHP operations with the data they collect.
Underpinning all of these changes are people – the engineers, scientists, mathematicians, technologists and innovators, both in BHP and in our partner companies, suppliers and customers.
While some skills are specific to our industry, many are not.
They have transferable skills, and all are interested in personal growth and great work experiences.
They, like all of us in this room, want secure and interesting work that makes a difference in the world.
How do we attract and retain these skills from mining engineers to stack developers to industrial engineers and venture capitalists?
We have to talk differently about the work we offer.
As we automate and electrify our operations, move work to remote operating centres, change the very equipment our maintainers look after, we have to train for new skills.
We need more electricians, more digitally savvy operators and maintainers, more robotics experts.
On a visit to one of our coal operations last year, I spoke with a maintainer completing field checks with his iPad.
He took me through how he completes the check on the new autonomous fleet at Goonyella.
He could point to the very real benefits of his new way of working…
From the connectivity to the predictive maintenance plans and uploading of issues in real time.
To the assurance of a job well done by his cross-shift due to standardised work methodologies.
To the new skills he had gained that had given him the confidence to join Facebook with his grandkids.
He was engaged and pleased with the change – the tools had made his work better and more reliable.
Our people are eager for change – they see the opportunities it provides and want to be engaged.
Some are – a little nervous maybe – but they are excited by the future and what it can bring for them and their communities.
So, what are we to do?
Critical skills gap
If I look at my own experience, starting as a geologist logging core samples in the late 1980s, the world has changed markedly.
We need to bring our people with us on this journey.
And we simply don’t have enough of them.
Increasingly, we need more digital skills in every aspect of what we do.
You may have seen some PwC analysis last year that suggests we will need 21% more mining engineers and geotech engineers, and 29% more metallurgists in 2040, than we had in 2020.
We need to train them now.
And we need to make sure they see the mining industry as stable, attractive, and dare I say it, exciting.
We all need to step up to make that happen.
There are some good signs already that we’re taking this seriously.
There are programs like NExUS at Adelaide University, which is developing a pipeline of exploration geologists, particularly around deep cover exploration.
BHP has instigated a First Year Intern program that was oversubscribed 7 times and resulted in 60 graduates deciding to switch to resources-facing subjects for their following year of university.
We have established a Technical Entry Program to welcome back people who have taken a break from the workforce, but who have wonderful skills they can re-engage.
And we have put in place re-training programs for the automated fleet employees.
They have experience we do not want to lose but which they now need to access in different and safer ways.
And we see the need for different jobs that are more engaging, interesting and keep people in the regional centres.
Our FutureFit Academies, in Perth and Mackay, intend to bring 2,500 apprentices and trainees through in the next 5 years.
And we are a partner in the Queensland Future Skills Partnership with TAFE Queensland and Central Queensland University to support pilot programs to enable existing workers, particularly in regional locations, to acquire new skills in new technologies.
We see the value in the Metallurgical Education Partnership between the Minerals Council, Curtin University, Murdoch University and the University of Queensland, which produces all four-year trained extractive metallurgists in Australia.
And Rio Tinto has put substantial effort and funding into advancing automation with the WA government and South Metropolitan TAFE.
These are all good programs.
But we need more of them if we are to pull the future towards us and make our industry a place where technologists, scientists, engineers and artisans see this future as theirs.
So, to conclude here.
It’s not an overstatement to say the future of mining is integral to the future of society.
The challenge will always be how we recover the resources that are needed.
How do we do it better, and more sustainably.
And how we get the right people to join our industry and teams.
Everyone in this room contributes in some way to the gears and machinery that keeps the global economy and the global community moving.
It’s an exciting time because the need for what we do has never been clearer.
But we have to innovate to deliver.
That’s delivering on technology and innovation, delivering on sustainability, and continuing to pursue the goal of making mining a safe and attractive place to work.
Not one company represented in this room can do it alone.
And we can’t do it the way we’ve always done it in the past.
As you consider 2023 and beyond, ask yourself what you can do to help build the next generation of resource workers – so we can all build that better future, together?