Challenges and Prospects of the Lithium Industry in Argentina: an interview with Miguel Almiron, Human Resources Manager at Galaxy Resources
Miguel is an HR professional with more than 14 years of experience within the mining industry around Argentina. Mr. Almiron is a Lawyer, Specialist in Managerial Engineering and also holds a Master of Business Administration. Strong experience in experience leading labor relations, compensations, development, training, internal services, sustainability, and corporate culture.
Prior to joining Galaxy Resources, he worked with other important mining companies such as Barrick Argentina in Pascua Lama Project, and also with Loma Negra.
1. Amelia Charris: I would like you to share a little bit about your career, how did you join the mining industry?
Miguel Almiron: About 15 years ago, I started in the world of mining, an exciting world, where the challenges in Argentina are always growing. Always looking to learn something, there is always a new challenge. I started in mining while in the company Loma Negra, in a mine that is located here a few kilometers from Catamarca, in Recreo. From there, I ventured into both San Juan and now here in Catamarca, exclusively mining provinces. In different companies where I have been doing my work of foreign, Canadian or Australian capitals, I realized that mining is not all said and done, but there is always something to discover. And, in that something to discover, it's not just metals, isn't it? One can pass from the metal phase, like being now for example, in the lithium phase. There are new challenges and even more here in Argentina, where there isn’t a mining development as strong as in Chile or Peru. What we are facing today is the war of talent. It is becoming increasingly difficult for us to find professionals who have the profile to be able to develop in different fields or in different positions that companies need. So much so that, for example, in Engineering universities in Catamarca, specifically Mining Engineering, did not have a specific lithium module, which is the process we are implementing here today, and we need specialized workforce. This led us to approach to a local university and propose a seminar where Galaxy professionals would teach the final year Mining Engineer students or professionals who are interested in working in our sector. So, we are finishing this seminar with approximately 30 students, who will be working with us soon.
2. Amelia Charris: That’s great news! That was precisely one of the questions we had prepared, as the lithium industry is relatively new in Argentina, what strategies the company has adopted for the development of these technical skills. So, when does this seminar officially start?
Miguel Almiron: This seminar began more than a month ago. In the next weeks, it will be ending. The good thing about this is that we not only give the theoretical part, but we will also give the practical part; I mean, these students are going to have a practical job on the ground climbing up the plateau in the “Salar del Hombre Muerto” where our project is rooted.
3. Amelia Charris: And in terms of duration, is this a pilot test? Or how do you see the continuity of this type of seminar within the university?
Miguel Almiron: The idea is to be able to do it every year. That is why there are professors from the university who are currently training with our professionals to be able to replicate it next year and so, successively, that it is also become a part of the development within the Mining Engineering course.
4. Amelia Charris: For the more critical positions? Perhaps, the positions which the company is preparing those people to have technical knowledge?
Miguel Almiron: That's right! There are different processes in lithium, and it is very important to have, not only specific knowledge but also all the necessary knowledge to achieve the expected result in quality and in time. Therefore, we must understand that the professionals we are going to take into our processes must live up to the circumstances. That being said, in the market surveys, what is happening today is that the companies are practically hiring all qualified candidates available. That's why I mentioned about a talent war. This is far from being something sustainable. All it does is increase labor costs. Therefore, having a vision for the future, our company has 40 years mine life and, therefore, we want to develop in Catamarca the necessary knowledge to be able to hire Catamarqueña labor.
5. Amelia Charris: Given your experience in the mining industry for approximately 15 years, what makes you most proud of your work in the Human Resources field?
Miguel Almiron: It makes me proud to have developed different systems in different companies. The good thing about mining, and according to the company you’re in, is that, as I said before, nothing is said and done. There are always new things you can try, from a performance evaluation system, such as training. Today we consider that in addition to the hard skills, so to speak, and the necessary technical knowledge, we also develop soft knowledge; that is, the skills needed to lead teams, to be able to communicate in the best way, skills around how to fit in the team. and of course, the cultural change that comes with this new lithium industry.
6. Amelia Charris: That’s right. From your experience and the 15 years that you have participated in operations from the beginning, creating processes and structuring as such, what are the main challenges you are facing in a new operation or in a Ramp-up?
Miguel Almiron: First, it is to adapt to the culture. Each company has a different culture ranging from compliance to how it relates to the unions. In my experience, the most difficult thing to face is the concept or criteria of safety. Not all provinces here in Argentina the workers had experience working in high level companies. I mean internationally, in terms of what safety criteria is; and changing the culture is quite complex and takes time. To care for the worker, sometimes the worker comes with other types of experiences for having worked in other companies where safety is not a priority and for us it is. Caring for the worker is the most important thing and that is why we insist in working on cultural change. Cultural change should bring a change of consciousness and awareness that the worker comes first, because his family is waiting for him at home so he can return. We have a motto: “Always return home safe”.
7. Amelia Charris: That’s good, perfect! From the Human Resources perspective, you just mentioned that Soft Skills are high demand in the industry: Leadership, teamwork and negotiation skills. What do you think are Galaxy’s most needed soft skills right now?
Miguel Almiron: Communication and teamwork, above all. Depending on the way the company is growing, the hiring of different professionals and different workers, each one comes with a different culture, as far as communication or teamwork is concerned. Therefore, the greatest challenge Human Resources department is having with management, is to be able to align communication among employees and teams. We have implemented a training system, where we can understand it, and reflect the disadvantages or risks that exist in the communication process, where one believes that because he sends out an email, his work is finished. Trying to show that, for example, one email only communicates 7% of the total communication. Therefore, if one believes to understand that it has been communicated, first of all that is an illusion. the reason why we say that this type of communication is an illusion, it is because we believe the other person understood it, and the only way that the other person has understood my message is to be inside my head, and that is impossible. Therefore, we must make an effort, so that the one who starts the communication, asks for feedback in order to make sure the person who received it, understood it in the best way. That way, we avoid misunderstandings and reprocesses that delay the achievement of the objectives in the company.
8. Amelia Charris: I completely agree! Could you please share with us a little bit about your vision of the mining industry in Argentina, specifically in regard to Lithium. What are the projections and demands for the future? I understand one of the main markets are electric cars batteries. What will be the future of lithium?
Miguel Almiron: The future of Lithium is very promising according to the studies that we have access to. There is going to be a high demand in a few years due to the evolution of electric cars, which are now booming. The demand for Lithium is going to be sustained over time, not only Lithium but also everything that has to do with the computer industry, the cell phone industry, the high demand for this product makes the business sustainable over time and also attractive to investors.
9. Amelia Charris: And how about "Sal de Vida" which is targeting a 40-year operation with approximately 1.1 million tons of lithium carbonate reserves, how does the company expect to implement diversity and inclusion policies at the different stages of the project?
Miguel Almiron: One of the challenges we currently have is to incorporate community personnel to start training. We understand that, as I said before, the lack of knowledge to be able to generate the process within the lithium industry, the company is taking precautions to the effect of starting the training process within the communities to be able to have the qualified workforce it needs for its operations. In this way, we can incorporate the communities that are close to the project so that these communities’ benefit from something that is essential and is source of work. Not only source of work, but also it is our challenge to develop local suppliers. So, we have a lot to work on and, since this project has so many years of duration, we must create that kind of ties so that growth is continuous and so that everyone feels they are part of this process.
10. Amelia Charris: And regarding gender issues; Gender equality, do you think, within your training programs in the Catamarqueña community, it will include women for positions related to the operations?
Miguel Almiron: That’s right. I have experience working in another lithium mine in Jujuy, where we have developed that program. There were approximately 30% of female staff. I want to emphasize that women are the best workers in terms of quality of work and fulfillment of tasks, and this is essential. Therefore, Galaxy within its training program, and incorporation, has planned to incorporate a similar percentage of female staff.
11. Amelia Charris: That’s great news! The last question Miguel, being Argentina a world-wide power in the exploitation of lithium carbonate, what are the practices, from an HR point of view, that must be implemented and consolidated over time to guarantee the sustainability of the operation?
Miguel Almiron: First, to be an attractive company, that being the essential functions such as attraction and retention. Attraction as a company brand meaning Galaxy is a company where professionals have the desire to work. This is long term a job. It is a day to day work the staff. The best marketing we can have is word of mouth; Tell your friends: "Come work at Galaxy, which is a very good company." On the other hand, we are also working on retention, so our staff always choose to stay on Galaxy. That has to do, not only with the name of the company, but with the kind of leadership you’re going to have here. That’s why we’re aligned on the managerial side to try as much as possible, within the cultural change we are facing, leadership as an essential issue and this involves an essential step which is respect for the person. And that if I have the opportunity to be able to lead and the company places the most precious thing it has, which are the people, to work with me, I as leader am responsible for development of these people so that they can continue to grow.
12. Amelia Charris: Well then, I think that has been all for today. Miguel, thank you very much for this space, for us you are a reference person in the industry, who has a lot of knowledge of the context in the country of the mining industry. We found it super interesting and important to include you in these interviews we have done with managers and with prominent people in the industry.
Miguel Almiron: Thank you very much Amelia and Globe for confirming and for giving me this space to express myself.
Thank you so much for your time this afternoon Miguel, it’s very much appreciated, we are glad to count on you in our newsletter as a referent of the lithium industry in Argentina.
About Globe 24-7
Globe 24-7 (Globe) has been conducting human resources consulting and search assignments for local and international mining, power and energy companies around the world for over a decade. Globe has offices in the major markets of the world to ensure consulting assignments and search campaigns are effectively managed at both site and corporate locations and has grown internationally to now service small, mid-tier and large-scale companies through its project recruitment, search, HR consulting and HR Systems divisions.