The mining industry calls for increased STEM subjects to revive the British economy
If it can’t be grown (or fished) it has to be mined, and almost everything we use in everyday life has been mined. Material for batteries, mobile phones and wind farms all have to be mined.
The importance of the mining industry is obvious; so why does the word “mining” conjure up a dirty, coal-streaked face with a hard hat and miners’ lamp? This is not how it is, and we need to dispel this perception of the industry.
Should the industry be asking for “material engineers”, “mineral extractors” or “material processors” in order to attract bright young people to study fascinating subjects, such as engineering, geology and environmental studies that come under the umbrella of “mining”? The industry has changed enormously over the years, and it’s now at the cutting edge of technology, requiring professional skills, computer programming, remote operators and analysists.
Camborne School of Mines (CSM) recently announced that it was pausing its Mining Engineer course for a year. At a recent meeting with over 35 participants from ABMEC and the CSM, on the subject of declining numbers of graduate British mining engineers, it was agreed to draw up a programme to encourage 16-18 year olds to consider the enormous number of opportunities available.
The mining industry is a gateway to competitive salaries, international travel, interesting careers and being in a position to make decisions that improve society.
With BREXIT nearing, Britain needs to start making things again. We need to be more self-sufficient and responsive to outside market forces. The benefit of increased employment in manufacturing improves areas, people’s lives and economies. The British Government acknowledges the value of manufacturing and is willing to invest to boost confidence in its future.
According to the Mail Online, Britain is heading for a great shortage of engineering skills and the need for indigenous R&D is paramount. British universities are world-renowned for their excellence in research. Britain is excellent at innovating, and over 50% of all UK exports are from the manufacturing sector. The UK manufactures global brands, particularly in the mining equipment industry. While lithium batteries and flat screen TVs are not manufactured in the UK, they were invented here. Manufacturing lends itself to apprenticeship programmes and retraining (at various stages in most careers).
Automation is essential for efficient productivity: and while it reduces the need for manual labour, it increases the demand for design engineers, remote operators and electronics personnel.
The lack of Mining Engineer undergraduates will cause problems in the employment supply chain, something echoed by Network Rail, which recently estimated that there will be up to 30,000 engineering vacancies over the next few years, hence the development of High Speed Rail Colleges in the country.
As economies grow and urbanisation increases, the world’s demand for affordable and secure energy will grow. World poverty will only be eradicated by ensuring reliable energy sources. Coal still remains the number one source of the world’s energy, supplying over 30% of the total, and an even higher share in Southeast Asia, which contains the fastest-growing economies in the world.
According to the World Coal Authority, deploying high efficiency, low emission (HELE) coal-fired power plants is a key first step toward near-zero emissions from coal with carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS).
The Mail Online reports that Australian students are being offered highly-paid jobs in mining before they finish studying, and wages are being pushed higher by a skills shortage. A maintenance superintendent can now earn A$205,000 (£112,000), and geologists, engineers, electricians and excavators are starting with salaries ranging from A$155,000 (£84,000) to A$186,000 (£101,000). Having traditionally been a male dominated industry, for several years now, there have been more female than male mining truck drivers in Australia.
We all need to promote the best of British science, technology, engineering and mathematic (STEM) subjects to young people; it is their future.
President of ABMEC, Paul Freeman spoke passionately about his exciting and varied career within the mining industry, and wants to share that enthusiasm and experience with upcoming graduates.
Richard Dexter of Herrenknecht, also a CSM ex-student, expressed his disappointment in the CSM’s decision and offered support for the changing of perceptions within the industry.
Regular speaker at the ABMEC Conferences, Dr Chris Hinde (formerly with S&P Global but now a director at Pick & Pen Ltd), commented that the industry globally has lost the support of the public, and urgently needs to win back the hearts and minds of school-aged children.
The dialogue needs to shift from the historical (and largely accurate) picture of mining towards the industry’s advanced mechanics and technology.
In particular, we need to explain that by extracting the materials that are crucial for renewable energy and batteries, we represent the solution to the world’s problems, rather than being the cause of them. To achieve this, social media and the popular press need to be brought aboard; the Financial Times has attended mining conferences historically, now it needs to be Twitter, the Sun and Daily Mail!