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Rio Tinto has pledged almost $60 million to accelerate the development of automation skills in Western Australia’s mining workforce.

Automation qualifications are considered “critical skills” by Rio Tinto, as the mining industry expands its adoption of advanced technologies.

The mining giant will pledge $2 million towards funding the state’s automation courses, which it had helped develop last year — as part of the first nationally recognised automation qualifications.

Western Australia Education and Training Minister Sue Ellery said the state’s automation courses had emerged from last year’s resource industry collaboration between the state government, South Metropolitan TAFE and Rio Tinto.

“These courses are the first of their kind in Australia and I am pleased to see Rio Tinto partnering with BHP Mitsubishi Alliance, Queensland TAFE and CQ University to expand the program into Queensland,” Ellery said.

“WA’s cutting-edge automation courses have captured the imagination of industry and are a great example of industry working in partnership with TAFE to ensure people have the skills for the new jobs that are being created through technological innovation.”

The mining company is set to recruit 150 people in 2021, which will include graduates, apprentices, trainees and vacation students in Western Australia.

Rio Tinto Vice President Human Resources – iron ore Scott Brown said the company hopesd these changes would lead to positive change for many Australians.

“Australian industry is a global leader in innovation, made possible by the ingenuity, skill, diversity and capability of the people that make up its workforce,” he said.

“When Rio Tinto and the WA Government developed the automation qualifications in partnership with South Metropolitan TAFE, we had aspirations that they would be picked up across Australia and be used to build the capability of not only our existing workforce, who are working in an increasingly technology enabled environment, but also the broader Australian workforce across a range of sectors.”

A further investment of more than $10 million from Rio Tinto will be provided to external, Western Australia-based training programs in 2021.

Rio Tinto recently hired 30 people as part of the second round of its 2020 apprentice intake, which included five who lost their apprenticeships due to COVID-19.

More than of the 30 apprentices hired are Indigenous, and one-third are female.