As the Baby Boom generation prepares to retire, the biggest issue facing the mining industry is how to bridge gaps in the physical skill set of young workers, or what employers call the “Nintendo Generation”.
Training young workers “is the biggest safety issue in mining,” says workplace safety expert Alan Quilley, President of Safety Results, an Alberta-based job safety consulting firm.
That concern can be extended to any industry where mechanical know-how is essential.
Young workers whose problem solving skills were largely developed in front of a computer face an information gap when they move into jobs that require manual skills.
“My generation of workers entered the work world with much more exposure to mechanical skills,” says Quilley. “My father taught me how to rewire a house when I was a teenager. I have five children. Not one of them has shown any interest whatsoever in taking apart an engine.
“That’s not to say they’re not capable. But they have not grown up in that atmosphere.”
Quilley maintains that young workers entering mining and other industries are better educated, smarter and “more than capable” of being trained to do the job safely.
“We have to be patient,” he says. “We can’t just wish the gap did not exist. It’s wrong to say they ‘know nothing’.”
Young workers’ “experience gap” presents management with fresh opportunities to create a safer work environment, Quilley argues. These advantages include:
- No ‘fossilized’ bad work habits, short cuts, small acts of carelessness learned long ago and brought to the job
- A new style of problem-solving skills, greater familiarity with technology and an ability to adapt quickly to technological changes
- Attitudes that embrace ‘personal’ learning styles and are resistant to one-size-fits-all, top-down training
“We need to ask young workers: what works for you? What do you need to know to feel safe on the job? And let them reflect on that,” says Quilley.
“It might seem effective to just make a safety training DVD and away we go. But it’s not effective. Young workers don’t respond to a safety rule lecture. It’s a more organic, problem-solving process.”