According to recent research into HR processes, it is the so-called deskless industries in Australia that are most likely to have systems that are old-fashioned or even redundant in some cases. This certainly appears to be the case in the Australian mining sector which employs people in a raft of different roles outside of a conventional office-based structure. And yet, productivity in mining – and related deskless industries – has been falling for some time. To stem this tide, numerous mine-operating companies in Australia – and other parts of the world – have looked more and more at investment in business technology.
It is fair to say that IT solutions have been taken up in ever greater numbers by mining corporations over the course of the last two years or more. Once seen as a sector that was hesitant to take up new technology for administrative purposes, businesses that mine for their primary economic activity have almost universally changed their attitude and now rely on digital tech for a raft of purposes. However, what the research makes clear is that investment into HR technology and people management digital solutions remains behind that of similarly sized sectors.
Boasting an export turnover of around AU$300 billion last year, Australia's mine and quarry sector certainly invests in machinery and sector-based technology. The use of computer technology, in particular, has become part of everyday life for many people who work in the sector today. Therefore, it is somewhat surprising to find out that even some of the sizeable mining companies with large workforces that operate in Australia today are a long way behind with the digitisation of their HR processes. In practical terms, what this really means is that some companies still prefer to keep their employees' timesheets registered with pen and paper than use more efficient digital systems. Numerous other sectors which have large numbers of people on their payroll find they obtain significant gains in efficiency when they adopt digital HR software systems. Why, therefore, has the same thing not happened in sectors like mining?
The research looked into the uptake of workforce management systems across the board in the sector. Although it is fair to say that the findings were not universal and one company's employee time tracking system might not compare directly with another, there were certainly some easily discernible trends. According to one of the researchers, one firm in the sector continued to use manual methods to record employee time tracking. Perhaps that isn't so unusual but, in this particular case, the firm in question did not process the handwritten timesheets in any way. Instead of entering the information into time & attendance software so it could be easily interpreted by the company's payroll team, it simply sent them the muddied papers for them to sort out on their own. Needless to say, such a move not only led to errors with employee time tracking but also caused a headache among the payroll team. On some occasions, miners didn't think they'd been paid the right amount because the timesheets were hard to read.
Interestingly, mining firms in Australia are now at the forefront of digital technology in some areas. If it concerns the safety of mines or the efficiency through which open-caste operations can be exploited, digital systems are very likely to be deployed. In other words, it isn't as if the sector is technophobic in some way. Rather, there appears to be some lack of urgency into changing traditional workforce management systems in favour of more modern people management software or HR software systems that can help mines to run more efficiently from a human perspective.
Over the course of 2019-20, earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation among all mine operating companies in Australia went up by AU$20 billion. However, the comparable figure for 2020-21 was AU$6.4 billion. This statistic alone demonstrates that further efficiencies in workforce management could stem the tide of falling profitability. With investment in proper people management software, not only would it be easier for the sector to stay on top of payroll-related costs, but it is likely to mean being able to reduce the number of man-hours spent on antiquated paper-based systems, too. Perhaps mining firms think that their processes won't fit neatly into a standard time & attendance software system and consider that a bespoke alternative is likely to be too costly or won't be able to adjust to changing conditions in the industry? If so, this belief is likely to be based on a false assumption. Why? Because modern people management software, like that offered by Advanced, can be tailored to not only the sectorial business needs of deskless industries but to meet the specific requirements of individual businesses, too. Maybe, therefore, it is time for mining companies in Australia to reevaluate their uptake of HR software and to benefit from the boost in productivity that such systems typically allow for.