Almost every time you pick up a magazine or open a webpage, there is another article warning of dire shortages of mining engineers. Whole careers are made and new companies kept going on the issue. On measure of the direction things are heading comes from New Zealand: graduating mining engineers start at nearly $100,000 per year. Informally I am told that graduates from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC are being snapped up at well over this amount. The last one I heard of was moved to Toronto at a salary of $130,000 a year.
The solutions to this so-called impending crisis include the usual: more of other genders and ethnicities; more immigration (brain drain the rest); more education; keep the old working longer (but don’t overpay ‘em); and develop more robots (but not at the expense of putting people out of work.) I have even heard recycling touted as a solution to the problem: use less, mine less, and no need to find the non-existant.
Most of the analyses I read are so far of the mark as to qualify as a skit on Saturday Night Live. Seems the writers and analysts believe mines run only because of mining engineers. While not wishing to deprecate the role of mining engineers in mining, I must rise to the defence of the myriad other disciplines and professions that make mining possible.
Let us start with the investors. Personally I find the idea of fewer investors delightful. Less competition for the shares available. But somehow I cannot conceive how the impending shortage of mining engineers is going to reduce the number of competing investors. Pity though.
Then the financial analysts: considering the wonderful views of the offices of the Vancouver mining financial analysts I know, there will never be a shortage of same. Like the investors in mining stock, this is just too nice & lucrative a way to earn a living to suffer permanent shortages.
You need lawyers to get your permits, negotiate the contracts, seal the deals. Are we about to face a shortage of lawyers willing and able to service the mining industry? It is possible that the good young lawyers will be draw to humanitarian work? In spite of this temptation, is it most likely there will always be a plentiful supply to service and sue mines. What would we do without lawyers ready and willing to take on mining companies that fake their NI 43-101s, raid 401(K)s, and otherwise reduce share value? The law of supply & demand will kick in fast enough if an imbalance looms.
Environmental scientists are crucial to opening, operating, and closing a mine. If we can avoid electing a fake conservative like Mitt Romney, maybe we can get in somebody truly brave enough to shut down the war in Iraq, face global warming, and deal with the EPA. Free up all those military & environmental folk from ideological battles to manage the mines and deal with trench environmental warfare on the mining front, why we may have enough able bodies to go around.
Civil engineers play a crucial role on most mines: sorting out the mine’s water balance; building stable tailings impoundments and waste rock dumps; designing and building headgears; and all the rest. There will continue to be competition for their attention with the civilian roads and bridges we like to travel fast & safe. Seems that North American universities are not training sufficient civil engineers to service the civil engineering industry net alone the mining industry. Taking the perspective of the mining industry though, it all boils down to raising civil engineering salaries to a par with mining engineering salaries. Until that happens, I won’t believe there truly is a shortage of folk to go around to staff a standard mine.
You could come up with similar analyses for human resource officers, political scientists, metallurgists, accountants, technical editors, and all the diversity of people who make mining happen cost-effectively. I leave that to you on the basis of your own training and interest.
It all boils down to a few common denominators: increase salaries for all disciplines, welcome immigrants, facilitate relocation from forestry and car building (or whatever industry is outsourced to distant countries), and support education, regardless of the line of study.
On that latter point, here are links to a number of on-line education resources potentially useful to the mining industry and people seeking to enter and advance in the industry:
- European Mining, Minerals and Environmental Program ( I provide the wikipedia link as their website never seems to be up)
- The Globally Employable Mining Engineer (GEME) Program
- Sandvik International Mining School
- UBC Certificate of Mining Studies
- University of Missouri-Rolla Master of Engineering in Mining — Distance Education Program
- University of New South Wales Professional Development for the Mining Industry
- EduMine Professional Development and Education for Mining.
Seems as though there never will be a shortage of academics to teach people about mining and the many related disciplines. Pay them and promise them a trip to another country and they will come. I conclude this in spite of the dire predictions from M.K McCarter, professor of mining engineering at the University of Utah. Writing in the September issue of Mining Engineering, he notes the closing of many mining schools and the aging of academic faculty. Unfortunately his otherwise insightful, statistics-filled article is marred by an over emphasis on the virtues of tenure, a tiresome plea for more money, a misleading title that includes that frilly frou-frou sustainability, and a complete failure to mention or consider the many other disciplines that go to make for successful mining.
Surely we need to start by reforming academia and its approach to terminology, tenure, discipline myopia, and avoidance of e-learning before we can begin to deal with real and imagined shortages of trained people for mines, as compared to mining engineers per se.
PS. For what it is worth and going where this blog need not, I rather admire Romney and would consider voting for him if reason prevails and he does not backslide too much from his success as a governor.