The Australian coal industry has faced many challenges in the past 18 months as it adjusts to global market conditions.
Faced with lower coal prices and rising costs, mining companies like BHP Billiton are focusing on productivity and workers’ mindsets.
A developing world needs coal
Speaking at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) in Brisbane, Dean Dalla Valle said as the world develops, there is a critical need to improve global living standards and that BHP had an important role to play in that.
He said a fifth of the world`s population does not have access to reliable modern energy. Particular reference was made to the 700 million people in Africa who were still relying on burning wood or charcoal to cook food and warm their homes.
“1.7 billion people to gain access to coal-fired energy”
“In the next 20 years, we expect 1.7 billion people to gain access to electricity for the first time,” Valle said.
“Coal remains one of the lowest cost forms of power generation and will remain critical to the provision of this electricity.”
Coal mining presents a new opportunity for mining companies
Valle, said while he expected coal demand to continue for the next 20 years, prices are likely to remain subdued as result of a surplus of coal on the market.
The coal chief said most of this demand would come from other countries like India, which suffers massive issues with continuity of supply of metallurgical coal. We can already see that Indian power and energy companies have been active in Australia, especially in the coal rich state of Queensland.
“companies like Adani and GVK want Queensland coal”
Massive coal deposits lay untapped in the Galilee Basin where companies like Adani and GVK have their eyes on laying claim to the rich black prize.
As we can see from the issues faced with developing countries like India, demand for coal is expected to grow from 5.4 billion tonnes produced today to around 6.3 billion tonnes over the next 20 years. That’s almost a billion tonnes of extra coal needed in order to sustain the population needs of some of the largest countries in Asia.
“Australian mining companies must become more competitive”
Valle said Australia was positioned well to be part of this global growth. However, always eager to play the productivity card, he warned Australian mining companies must become more competitive, otherwise they would lose business to other low-cost suppliers who are entering the global coal trade market.
He said the adjustment to lower prices has been difficult for both Queensland and New South Wales mining operations. Mining companies have had to deal with jobs being reduced which impacted the sector. The flow-on effects for local industries and the communities were quite devastating – and the national economy as a whole suffered.
BHP turns the spotlight on mining costs
BHP have looked at their cost base throughout their entire coal mining operations and it seems they still have more to do as they continue to look for ways to improve the productivity and competitiveness of their coal mines.
Valle said BHP Billiton was examining its coal business at a “micro level” in the hopes of revealing where the leaks are in its systems.
“work smarter and deliver long term productivity gains”
The focus on increased productivity by mining companies in Australia is to modernise coal mining. This includes introducing new machinery, automated systems and new IT technologies to drive increased productivity. The end result of this is to allow BHP to work smarter to make sure they deliver long term productivity gains.
“stepping up and rising to the challenge”
With the drive for increased output using new technology, BHP had stated it must also realise that high performing teams of skilled and capable people are needed. Workers are only now starting to be aware of the importance of their involvement in the business and are stepping up and rising to the challenge of the new era of mining in Australia.
Coal mining relies on the use of the latest technology and motivated and competent operators to keep BHP forging ahead. BHP also believe in ensuring their workforce have the right opportunities to allow them to personally develop their careers in the industry.
“career paths are endless”
Advanced training courses are available for people who wish to further their careers and move into mining management as a Supervisor, or become a Work Health & Safety Advisor. Career paths are endless – this is one of the drawcards for many people who want a mining job as it presents unique opportunities to earn a good living and a solid career. Current mine workers can also increase their job promotion opportunities by studying online mining courses. Online courses for mining offer many advantages and can be completed anywhere and in most cases can be accessed by the smallest of smartphones or tablet devices.
Daunia mine FIFO workers create a new culture at BHP
Valle also made reference to new internal BHP business processes that has reshaped the workplace culture.
“a new culture and mindset has being created”
He said BHP’s FIFO workforce at the Queensland Daunia coal mine was an example of a new coal mining operation where a new culture and mindset has being created to help increase productivity.
“What is evident when you go to Daunia is that when you bring a diverse, enthusiastic group of new people to our industry and blend them with experienced miners and the right training and supervision, a new culture develops”, he said.
“It also helps us increase our diversity as we re-shape our workforce, strive to better reflect the make-up of our society and spread the benefits of mining across Queensland.”