In pursuit of new blood

As the mining industry embraces digital transformation, ensuring graduates in the sector have the right skills to enter the workplace is paramount.

Speaking to National Mining Chronicle, Minerals Council of Australia Chief Executive Officer Tania Constable said technological advancements in the sector were changing the way we mine.

While the industry invests heavily in training, she said there was an ongoing need to engage young Australians as they considered their careers.

“We need to encourage these people to look at the exciting opportunities mining offers,” she said. “We need to reach out and increase the level of awareness about the new careers on offer in mining resulting from technological change.”

Ms Constable said to meet the challenge the MCA was assisting vocational and higher education institutions to collectively showcase the diverse careers available in the resources sector such as mining engineering, data science, environmental science and accounting.

“We need to continually invest in apprentices, graduates, interns and cadets to encourage them to not only commence employment in our industry but to enjoy a lifelong career,” she said. “A career might not be with just one company or in just one skill, but one that is adaptable and embraces the learning approach that underpins our industry’s future.”

In addition, Ms Constable said there was a great need for change to develop, nurture and sustain the people already working in the industry. 

“Our people are our industry’s most important asset,” she said.

Earlier this year, the MCA released a study by Ernst & Young that provided a comprehensive examination of future skills, training and technology trends in the Australian minerals industry.

One of the key findings of the EY study was that 77 per cent of jobs in the Australian mining sector will be enhanced or redesigned due to technology within five years.

“Workers will need to share and communicate, design and collaborate and operate in autonomous teams,” Ms Constable said. “Therefore, so-called ‘soft skills’ are becoming more important in the workplace.”

She said the EY study acknowledged the significant potential future gains for the sector.

“Overall productivity could increase by as much as 23 per cent in Australia by 2030 through the combination of up to $35 billion of investment and, most importantly, a co-investment of up to $13 billion in education and skills development,” she said.

“MCA has created the Minerals Industry National Associate Degree (MINAD) which recognises the need for para- professional qualifications, allowing workers to upskill and take on new opportunities with their employer.

“Mining is leading by example through collaborations like Rio Tinto’s $2 million investment with South Metropolitan TAFE and the Western Australian Government to deliver high-tech courses in automation for the first time in Australia. These are nationally recognised qualifications and the first to provide pathways to emerging jobs in the area of automation.”

Ms Constable said the industry must also prioritise investment in the development of new courses in those areas of STEM traditionally left for others to do.

“Future university degrees will need to have a mix of the latest scientific, technical and trade skills along with interpersonal skills including collaboration, team-building, communication and creativity,” she said.

“With a production boom now underway to meet growing global demand for energy and infrastructure, students can expect the appetite for our world-class Australian resources to remain strong. Job opportunities are also expanding, with more than 17,000 new roles in mining, resources and energy created since 2018.”

A new approach to education

National Mining Chronicle spoke to Centre of Resources Excellence (CoRE) Lead Suzy Urbaniak to discuss the learning program which she began teaching 15 years ago at Kent Street Senior High School.

As a geoscience educator and geologist, Ms Urbaniak said the CoRE program began as an idea sparked by her personal experience in the resources sector.

“When I started working as a geologist, I recognised there was a disparity in the education around what happens when you actually go out and start to work,” she said. “I also saw there was a lack of home-grown talent working in the industry.”

Ms Urbaniak grew up in the eastern states of Australia and moved to WA to work as a geologist before beginning her career in teaching.

“As WA was a hot spot for resources, I was confused by the small number of people working in the industry,” she said.

“When I got started in education, I took my personal observations of the industry and wanted to make sure the students I taught learned to become doers.”

Determined that her students leave school fully equipped with the right skills and knowledge to take on a variety of career pathways in science and engineering, Ms Urbaniak is known for treating the classroom like a workplace.

“I wanted to create a more hands-on approach to learning, where students would be more involved in doing work,” she said.

Ms Urbaniak said the way science was being taught needed to change. “When I went back into the classroom to teach in 2004, I noticed the way science was being taught was killing the future workforce,” she said. “It’s about more than just textbooks and worksheets – the real world doesn’t operate like that.”

Ms Urbaniak said the CoRE program required students to be adaptable, open-minded, collaborative and flexible.

“They have to be team players and motivated individuals whose diverse backgrounds, knowledge and skills can turn challenging situations into solutions,” she said.

“Once students are provided with a safe learning environment, they can start to explore their unique talents, which helps them identify their dominant skills.

“It helps to elevate their self-confidence because they can then self-identify how these skills will be applied in the real world and it helps guide students into potential future careers.”

In 2016, Ms Urbaniak was recognised for her teaching and was awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools.

She said she was ‘STEMming’ long before the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) acronym was adopted into the learning community.

“STEM is not a subject,” she said. “It is a way of learning – the students need to have social and emotional skills too.

“STEM is an ecosystem of diverse, inclusive, capable individuals that can make major industries work.”

What is CoRE?

CoRE is no ordinary STEM education program – it encourages students to explore possibilities and combine the sciences, technology, engineering, the arts and maths together to develop novel solutions to real-world problems. During a CoRE class, students employ multiple skills and competencies. They:

• Identify real-world problems;

• Use technology to research and manipulate data;

• Engineer an array of potential solutions;

• Apply mathematics to understand trends and processes;

• Use their arts skills to communicate their findings.

The development of CoRE has been a 15-year journey which is based on a simple idea – that education, industry, community and government need to connect and work collaboratively to provide relevant and meaningful education pathways to students. It is about developing, nurturing, and promoting home-grown talent to facilitate the employment needs of the resources sector.

Image: Suzy Urbaniak. Credit: David Broadway.


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