• Closing the Mining Workforce Gap: Operator Training and Simulation

Two men reviewing data on the computer screen, energy managment
Operator training simulators throw various “failure issues” and changing variables at trainees to make sure that they know how to cope with a variety of conditions.

Mining companies today are caught in an operational crossfire between an experienced workforce that is rapidly retiring and an increasingly complex process automation environment. When experienced mining operators leave, they take a lifetime of knowledge with them. The industry is now facing a looming worker shortage — some estimates place the “qualified workforce gap” at almost 30%. At the same time today’s larger, more complex control systems — with greater volumes of data, increased levels of automation, and expanded use of remote operations — have broadened the scope of responsibility for individual operators.

Closing the workforce gap — so that mining companies retain the highest levels of operational efficiency and safety — remains a major challenge. While it takes roughly one year to train an operational controller, operators are now switching jobs after only two years on average. Technologies that get less-experienced operators up to speed faster, transferring knowledge and skills from one generation to the next, have become crucial.

Operator training simulators (OTS) leverage the same validated dynamic modeling software used to optimize process efficiency. Integrated with the real control system interface, an OTS allows workers to experience and respond to simulated high-risk situations in a risk-free virtual-reality environment. Much like they do for airline pilots or astronauts, simulators throw various “failure issues” and changing variables at trainees to make sure that they know how to cope with a variety of conditions. Repetitive training on various “what if” scenarios enables employees to respond to those situations with better, faster decisions so that appropriate best-practice procedures become second nature.

Why a mining company that improves energy efficiency is usually a successful mining company in the next article in this series, “Realizing Energy and Water Efficiencies in Mining Operations.”
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