Greeted with a barrage of negative messages, students currently completing their secondary education (and their parents), may not currently view a career in the mining industry as an attractive option.
But from an industry and an educator perspective there has never been a more exciting time to be involved in the industry and the future of Australian mining and mining education is anything but glum.
Professor Sam Spearing, Curtin University WA School of Mines Director says it is impossible to consider an advanced global society that is not totally dependent on mining and energy.
“Minerals related professions will remain relevant for the foreseeable future, unlike many other careers that are becoming redundant due to advances in technology,” he said.
But as the mining industry embraces new technology and automation the range of unskilled and semi-skilled career options are not only diminishing but are fundamentally changing.
“Automation and real-time monitoring and data analysis are now a fundamental, and increasing environmental restrictions and the need for improved community consultation are also part of the mix,” he said.
“Robotics and the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) are already on the agenda as is subsea mining and even off-earth asteroid mining. The challenge for industry and educators alike will be ensuring adequate numbers of minerals professionals with the right skill sets.”
Linda O’Farrell, Group Manager, Fortescue People says the move towards automation and adoption of new technologies, including autonomous haulage and information systems has led to major changes in how mining operations function.
“Graduates today have access to systems which assist in analysing business data to assess where improvements can be made; they interact with teams located in a variety of places and time zones; and, very importantly, they are expected to contribute to business success by challenging processes and ways of thinking from day one on the job.
“So graduates today are successful when they are agile learners, highly IT literate, able to analyse data and communicate effectively with a wide range of people, including an increasing number of highly educated professionals who may work remotely.
“What hasn’t changed is the need for a deep understanding of what it takes to lead safety and the development of a strong foundation in mining practices.
“This is gained by spending time in the field, learning from and interacting with people operating processing plants and mining equipment, walking the ground to understand orebodies, and speaking with a range of stakeholders from communities to traditional land owners.
“We encourage our graduates to spend the early part of their career with us in field-based, frontline roles to learn essential technical skills and to help people from a diverse set of skills and backgrounds work together successfully.
Roy Hill is the first mining operation built with automation in mind from the outset, enabling an integrated approach to the planning, operations and management of Roy Hill’s corporate, mining, processing, rail and port operations.
The opening of Roy Hill’s interactive Learning Centre ‘ROC ED’, located at the company headquarters and Remote Operations Centre (ROC) in Perth earlier this month will enable high school students to learn about modern mining and provide insights on a wide range of career options.
Speaking at the opening of the Centre, Roy Hill Holdings, Chief Executive Officer, Barry Fitzgerald said the decision to open the ROC-ED Learning Centre enables students to learn more about Roy Hill’s operations in the context of their broader learning in school.
“They will also explore what it takes to build a career in mining and the importance of the mining industry to the national economy.”
“This innovative approach to learning is highlighted with the opening of ROC-ED and is an initiative that we are very proud of. We look forward to welcoming further groups of Year 8 students to Roy Hill’s ROC-ED in the future,” Mr Fitzgerald added.
Professor Spearing says for the education sector ensuring the supply of appropriately skilled mining resources graduates in a rapidly changing environment may also require significant modifications to the delivery of university level education.
“We might want to consider a ‘back to the future approach’, with a greater use of internships during study,” he said.
“Mining companies could employ school leavers or first year tertiary students and have them intern for a trial period and then employ them and potentially sponsor them through university.”
The traditional method of attending lectures for a whole semester may need to change to accommodate students working nearly full–time.
“Short bursts of intensive contact time for lectures and laboratories could be complemented with using online, high quality audio visual lectures and tutorials,” he said
Using five year plans to inform graduate requirements for industry was also suggested.