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Article series: Future skills for the resources sector – Part 3

As part of our Future Workforce Digital Discovery Series, we are running a 3-part Q&A article series that explores the future skills needs for the resources sector.

We spoke with several industry leaders and experts to find out what changes are coming, and how prepared we are as an industry to meet the challenges ahead.

Part 3 of the series examines how educational institutions are adapting for the future needs of the industry.

Prof Bruce Hebblewhite FAusIMM

Professor of Mining Engineering, School of Minerals & Energy Resources Engineering, UNSW

How are educational programs adapting for the future needs of the industry?

From the perspective of mining engineering educational programs, first, it is clear that the future industry still needs the role of a mining engineer in our mines. However, the traditionally educated mining engineer will not meet the future needs. Whilst maintaining the core technical skills of a mining engineer, we need to upskill our graduates with more skills in relation to:

  • changing and innovative new technologies
  • dealing with large and complex datasets
  • awareness of the role of automation, control systems and real-time monitoring including the use of the Internet of Things (IoT)
  • greater awareness and engagement in social issues impacting on mine planning, approvals and operations
  • more emphasis on people skills and leadership, with an ability to work more with multi-disciplinary teams.

These are just a few of the priority areas where there is a need to change the education programs for mining engineers. In our school at UNSW, we are currently in the middle of a complete review and upgrade of our curriculum for this very purpose, in trying to better prepare our graduates for the future industry needs.

How can we best prepare students to enter the future workforce? 

By exposing them to all of the above expanded and changing skill sets we should be making them better prepared. But there is no substitute for hands-on exposure to the industry at the earliest opportunities to see what really happens; to challenge young people; and to excite them about the multi-disciplinary and exciting cutting edge technologies that are being used on a daily basis in our modern industry.

The biggest challenge is to attract young people to enter the mining industry and to break down all of the old mindsets as to what the industry is all about. We (industry, academia and professional bodies such as AusIMM) have been failing in this challenge in recent years and we need to collectively lift the game significantly.

Awareness is one of the most powerful tools – most kids are either totally unaware, or totally misinformed about what our industry is all about and so we need to get in front of them, and showcase the modern mining industry, by whatever means possible – summer schools, open days, site visits, media campaigns, virtual reality simulations, school projects, etc.

Suzy Urbaniak

Founder, Centre of Resources Excellence (CoRE)

How are educational programs adapting for the future needs of the industry?

I believe we have not yet fully prepared our educators, schools and communities to support the next generation to thrive in, not just survive, the future.

The future Australian science and engineering workforce is sitting in our classrooms today. At the end of the working life of the preschool class of 2020, these students will be seeing the beginning of the 22nd century.

As educators, it is up to us to build future skills, attitudes and attributes in our students focused on practical real-world learning and to embrace creativity and challenges to fixed learning methodologies.

How can we best prepare students to enter the future workforce?

School and university textbooks teach theory, but hands-on experience enables a student to get a real sense of inquiry, investigation and solution outcomes by better connecting the classroom environment directly with what is happening in the real world.

CoRE encourages students to be equipped with the right skills and knowledge to take on a variety of career pathways in science and engineering, so that the classroom is treated more as a workplace where students can focus on evolving as young scientists.

Prof Richard Durham MAusIMM

Professor Mining Engineering, Department of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering, The University of Western Australia

How are educational programs adapting for the future needs of the industry?

An example from the University of Western Australia (UWA) is that last year, as part of the alignment with the changing needs of industry and the future needs of industry, we started a combined data science and mining engineering course. This is at undergraduate level and the students do the same units as a full mining engineering and data science qualification at the Bachelor level. This is similar in many ways to a combined degree course that many people are familiar with.

At the end of the three years students get a Bachelors degree and then can follow a Masters in Data Science or Mining Engineering. This leads them to becoming either a qualified data scientist who also knows about mining engineering, or a qualified mining engineer who also knows about data science.

The other course we are developing (due to roll out in 2021) is a Bachelor in Automation and Robotics. This is similar in that it combines several undergraduate units, from software engineering, electrical and electronic engineering and mechanical engineering. Again, at the end of the undergraduate Bachelor’s course, each student can choose to specialise with a Masters in one of those three engineering disciplines to follow a career in either the software, electronics or mechanical aspect of automation and robotics.

How can we best prepare students to enter the future workforce? 

The options outlined above enable graduates to be job ready and give them broad, well-rounded skills that enable flexibility in the current and future workforce. UWA also offers a range of educational opportunities to continue life-long learning and enable re-skilling and up-skilling opportunities, which can assist the current workforce to adapt to current and future challenges in a cross-sector approach.

Read Part 1 of this article series, where we ask Rithin Payyanadan (Yokogawa) and Adrian Beer (Mets Ignited) the skills needed for future resources professionals.
Read Part 2 of this article series, where we ask industry leaders Peta Libby (Digirock), Giles Lenz (Roy Hill) and Mike Erickson (AngloGold Ashanti) the skills needed for future resources professionals.

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