The future of skills in mining automation control rooms
Authors: Peta Chirgwin
Abstract: This study reviews the possibility of a higher education curriculum at work within the role of a mine controller of mining automation systems, whereby the traditional pedagogical framework for higher education is gained through work-based, experiential learning and partnered with a strong and sustainable work-based education program. The research aims to evaluate current academic pathways for technology users in autonomous mine control rooms and examines if there is an existing ‘curriculum’ already present in work-based practice within the control room that could be tailored to suit a higher education. Advances in technology and work demand in autonomous mine control rooms have contributed to a resources gap in the domain. This has been coupled with poorly integrated systems and pressures of skilling the current workforce to remain relevant and capable of providing outcomes expected using new technologies. Additionally, when trying to integrate ‘soft skills’ while keeping pace with changing technology and increased automation, the question of academic validity of the role provides an opportunity to lead the way in work-based learning. This paper utilises behavioural and social science methodologies of qualitative research to understand the knowledge and skills requirements of a mine controllers’ role when working with new technologies. Through interviews, in-situ observations, and analysis of job descriptions of current mine control roles, data was collected and analysed to reveal any shortcomings that currently exist in the mine control role relevant to the application of Human Machine Interfaces (HMI). Further examination was conducted on human factors issues found within an autonomous control room to understand what was required in the anticipated ‘curriculum at work’. Observed behaviours and actions were triangulated with informal interviews and a literature search to enable the researchers to form a better understanding of the mine controller role and the application of knowledge within the role as the mining industry moves into a more digital world. In reviewing the application of higher education degrees within work, the paper also examines new methods of delivery such as gamification to supplement what is being learned in the workplace and motivate the learner to increase their knowledge. Qualitative methodologies of organisational analysis reveal similarities of knowledge being applied within work-based learning in the control room that exists currently in curricula being taught at universities in fields such as engineering and management.This research evaluated the specific role of the mine controller of mining automation systems and the introduction of mining automation and examined current literature and research revealing large gaps in the understanding of the mine controller role, the effects of increased automation on the employees within these roles, and the integration of humans and autonomous systems. The researcher suggests that the changing pace of technology advancements could see an end or at least a slowing down of several traditional university degrees and increased application of adult learning principles through work-based curricular.
Keywords: Mine Control, Work-Based Learning, Technology, Automation, Gamification, Systems Integration
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