Is it time to reconsider a career in mining engineering?

While enrolment is at its lowest in 10 years, a gradual uptick in mining suggests that the handful of students, currently enrolled in mining engineering studies, will be in strong demand on graduation. According to joint Energy of WA and Chamber of Minerals taskforce, at 32 students, the number of in-takes into mining engineering studies by the four largest universities (typically churning out mining graduates), is down by a mammoth 90 percent on its peak.

Given the magnitude of the mining crash, these figures are hardly surprising. However, the big-end of the mining sector is now worried that any protracted lag in the uptick in mining engineering student intakes – as the sector’s fortunes progressively improve – will created a significant shortage when they’re needed most.

In addition to the dove-like drop in mining engineer enrolments, the world’s third largest miner, Rio Tinto has also vocalised concerns that finding skilled people in data science, automation and artificial intelligence is becoming equally difficult. In light of the low enrolment levels locally, the big miner expects to have to compete aggressively for the right talent on the global market.

What big miners want tomorrow’s mining engineering students to understand is that with the worst of the mining down-turn behind them, the future job market for graduates is looking increasingly promising. Major signs of recovery can be seen in the recent decision by BHP to develop a $4.8 billion South Flank iron ore mine in the WA’s Pilbara.

This project alone is expected to create about 2500 jobs during construction and 600 ongoing roles during operations. BHP has also held supplier meetings in Perth, Port Hedland and Newman where more than 550 local businesses are expected to tender for work on South Flank. BHP had doubled its annual intake of trainees and apprentices to 200 and is expected to do likewise next year.

Other major mining investment announcements include, Fortescue Metals Group’s plans to develop its $1.7 billion Eliwana replacement project, while Rio Tinto is expected to make a decision on its $2.9 billion Koodaideri project later this year.

Despite the uptick in mining, some companies within the sector are concerned that a quantum shift in the lifestyle expectations of Next-gen students, means that a career ‘in the bush’, away from the city, family and friends is less compelling than ever.


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