The mining industry is on the precipice of the greatest skills shortfall in its history.
Demographic trends mean that a large number of skilled mining professionals are retiring from the workforce. Experienced mining professionals who left the industry during the bust are not tempted to return to ride the next boom.
At the same time, fewer school leavers are enrolling onto courses that will prepare them for a role in mining. Many of those who do choose a mining qualification, discover on graduation that they have a wide range of options and decide to work in other high-tech sectors. And the graduates who apply for mining roles are often found wanting in some of the essential skills employers are looking for.
These are the key challenges identified in an initial research report, Futureproofing education for mining written by Swann’s Nona Sichinava and Dr Emily Goetsch and first published in the Mining Journal’s Global Leadership Report.
Their research is based on interviews and questionnaires with academics from mining departments at universities in the UK, the US, Canada and Australia, their graduates and senior industry practitioners.
Nona and Emily conclude that while universities face challenges in providing graduates with all the right skills in sufficient numbers to meet the needs of the industry, the responsibility is shared.
Only a collaborative effort between the sector, educators and budget holders can solve this conundrum.
Miners, for example, have much work to do to make the sector more attractive. The negative perceptions of the industry inevitably reduce the number of people who choose to study mining courses, and also those mining graduates who ultimately decide to join the sector.
The mining industry should also strive to provide sponsorships, work experience opportunities and recruitment drives that follow a dependable pattern rather than reflecting the inevitable cyclical nature of their businesses.
Educators need to reassess their curricula against the present and anticipated needs of the industry. Establishing a two-way conversation will be central to this. The new skills go beyond the traditional mining disciplines to include critical thinking, new technologies, and the social dimensions of mining.
Budget holders and policymakers must provide the resources that enable educators to reshape their curricula. Courses are already so packed as to allow little room for manoeuvre, so this will require time, prioritisation and funding.
The perfect storm of demographic, education and social trends Nona and Emily have identified should be of concern to any mining leader.