As a skills shortage looms, Rio Tinto and Amazon launch education fund

Australia’s second-biggest miner, Rio Tinto, has entered into a partnership with global tech giant Amazon in the latest initiative aimed at addressing the resources sector’s looming skills shortage.

Rio Tinto is preparing to announce a $10 million program to identify education providers to work with Amazon Web Services in an effort to boost students’ skills in science, math, engineering and technology subjects. The program invites startups to bid for funding grants, Rio Tinto said, with successful applications to be selected by an advisory board of business and education industry leaders early next year.

As a skills shortage looms, Rio Tinto is looking for new ways to attract more students to science, technology and math.
As a skills shortage looms, Rio Tinto is looking for new ways to attract more students to science, technology and math.Credit:Louie Douvis

Startup adviser BlueChilli and Amazon’s cloud computing business, Amazon Web Services, will assist the “most promising” startups in scaling up their projects.

It comes as concerns continue to rise across the Australian mining industry about the threat of a fast-approaching labour shortage due to insufficient numbers of school students opting to study science, technology, engineering and math (so-called STEM subjects).


According to research from the Minerals Council of Australia, the pipeline of mining engineering graduates is in “rapid decline”, with projected enrolments dropping from 171 in 2017 to 98 in 2018 and could fall as low as 47 in 2020.

Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques described the new partnership as a “bold and disruptive” approach to identifying solutions.

“Rapid technological change is transforming our lives, and the pace of change is only increasing, challenging our ability to attract, develop and retain the talent needed to run our operations of the future,” he said.

“Addressing the change in skills required by mining and other industries is a task that requires new thinking and genuine partnerships between business, governments and academia.”

Sarah Bassett, Amazon Web Services’ head of resource industries for Australia and New Zealand, said the company was committed to helping Australians develop skills needed to thrive and drive economic growth.

“We are delighted to work with Rio Tinto and BlueChilli as well as some of the most innovative startups to help enable their ideas through technology,” she said.

Business Council of Australia chief Jennifer Westacott said new programs such as the Rio Tinto and Amazon partnership were important in encouraging students to develop the digital skills needed to enter the workforce of the future.

“Getting the skills system right is the best way to protect Australian jobs and Australian workers as the world changes,” Ms Westacott said.

“We can’t hold back technological disruption but we can protect Australian workers by giving them access to the skills they are going to need.”

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