on December 6th, 2023

Digging up the metals that power our grids and fuel electric cars is a pivotal aspect of the global energy transition. However, there is a mining engineers shortage being experienced by the mining industry.

Mining Education Challenges

In regions like Canada and the US, enrollment in university courses related to mining engineering has witnessed a decline, intensifying the hurdles miners face as they strive to meet the escalating demand for metals crucial to national security and sustainable energy.

Fewer students want to be geologists or engineers, partly due to mining’s negative image regarding pollution, human rights, and gender equality. That’s leaving the industry with an aging workforce and forcing it to recruit from outside the traditional university talent pool, such as through apprenticeship programs and internal training.

“There’s been a bit of a lost decade in people going through university in mining courses – that’s proving to come to crunch point now,” said Alison Allen, deputy managing director at UK-based mining consultancy Wardell Armstrong. “There are too few graduates filling needs,” she told Bloomberg News.

Mining engineers shortage is a global concern

The waning interest is clear in some of the world’s key mining jurisdictions. At the Colorado School of Mines, total enrollment in mining, geophysical, and geological engineering undergraduate degree courses last year was down about 35% from almost a decade ago.

In Canada, mining and mineral engineering graduates dropped by a third between 2016 and 2020, according to Statistics Canada data.

It’s a similar story at the UK’s prestigious Camborne School of Mines, traditionally an important feeder school for the global industry. The number earning degrees from its undergraduate mining engineering course fell in recent years, with new intakes halted in 2020. The school this year announced new programs for mining employees.

UK mining faces a big challenge to meet its needs, according to Rhys Morgan, an engineering and education director at the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Some 80% of the 1,250 mining engineers registered with the UK’s Engineering Council are over 50, and 40% are at least 60, he said. There are already major labor shortages in American mining, leading to significant cost increases, Walter Copan, a vice president at the Colorado School of Mines, said in June.

Solutions to Attract Mining Engineers

Efforts to tackle graduate shortages include new routes into work and in-house training. For example, Wardell Armstrong says the industry has opened apprenticeship positions to help fill some technician and junior roles. Coping with fewer workers isn’t new. More efficient output means mining heavyweights such as BHP Group and Rio Tinto Group are producing much more iron ore than a decade ago – with a lot fewer workers.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation may further reduce the sector’s reliance on skilled labor, and Rio’s tech graduate roles rose by 15% this year. There’s also a need for more non-engineering jobs, particularly with sustainability and social issues increasingly in the spotlight.

Anglo-American says its focus is shifting to include graduates with degrees in social and environmental sciences and data analytics. Plus, companies can get greater access to better interest rates and finance if they can prove their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standing, Allen said.

Mining Engineering Jobs Prospects

The drop in mining graduates means that those who do choose to go into the industry have a chance of a lucrative career. “I was bluntly told that if I have a master’s at CSM, I could walk into a job,” said Michael Dinata, who’s finishing a master’s course at the Camborne School of Mines after studying politics.

Yet he’s found some people are surprised at his choice, given the stigma surrounding mining. “I found that ironic because the entire infrastructure of technology is built on metal,” he said.

Enticing more students could be crucial to avoiding a potential shortage of new geologists and engineers in the coming years and decades. Legislation was introduced in the US this year that would provide grants to help mining schools tackle declining enrollment.

“There is a very challenging market competing for engineering skills,” Morgan said. “A fresh supply of new talent is critical to mine the materials that will enable the successful transition to electrification to meet net-zero ambitions.”

Mining education creates job prospects

Mining Education: Considering a Mining Career

Allen emphasized the urgent need for graduates in the mining sector: “There’s been a bit of a lost decade in people going through university in mining courses – that’s proving to come to crunch point now.”

Amidst these challenges and opportunities, tertiary institutions such as the Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT) emerge as a beacon for aspiring mining engineers. Offering specialized courses that cover essential aspects of mining engineering, EIT for example, prepares students for the dynamic landscape of the industry.

Recognizing this need, EIT’s programs not only meet the current industry requirements but also anticipate future demands by integrating the latest advancements in technology and automation.

One notable advantage of EIT’s courses is their adaptability to the evolving landscape of the mining industry. EIT ensures that its programs provide hands-on experience through apprenticeship positions, complementing theoretical knowledge.

These positions directly address the industry’s demand for skilled technicians and junior roles. As the world continues its pursuit of greener alternatives, mining engineers trained by EIT are well-equipped to play a pivotal role in ensuring a sustainable and responsible approach to resource extraction.

References

It’s getting harder to find mining engineers a green world needs

The Impending Skills Shortage In Mining

Has mining lost its luster? Why talent is moving elsewhere and how to bring them back

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