Ramón Dávila
CAMIMEX's Education Commission

Education Will Unlock the Future of Mining

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 08:48

The education and training of mining engineers and geologists does not always follow the mining industry’s demand for talent. According to Ernst and Young’s Business Risks Facing Mining and Metals 2014-2015, there is not only a shortage of talent for technical and middle to senior management positions, the mining industry is also suffering from being perceived as an unattractive and unstable sector among young graduates and professionals. Ramon Dávila, President of CAMIMEX’s Education Commission and board member of First Majestic, explains how talent entering the Mexican mining industry has evolved as a direct result of tendencies in the metals market. “At the beginning of 2000, we had a drop in the prices of metals. This caused employment in the Mexican mining industry to drop, which was compounded by the fact that the sector was not fully developed at the time. Many university graduates were left with little or no job opportunities. This led to a loss of interest in mining-focused education, which in turn led us to lose an entire crop of potential mining professionals,” he shares. Dávila states that the problem has continued over the last ten years as there has been an insufficient development of mining engineering and geology graduates in Mexican universities. In most mining jurisdictions, the scarcity of human talent is now being seen at all levels of a mining operation. To help curb this worrying trend, CAMIMEX decided to create a program through its Education Commission, to support students and professors of Earth Sciences in a range of universities. While many companies such as First Majestic already give out scholarships to universities, CAMIMEX collects funds from its members to provide 90 annual scholarships, 30 of which are for professors and 60 for students of mining-related careers.

Among the biggest deficiencies, Dávila explains, is the inability of mining engineers and geologists to understand and speak English. Other challenges include a lack of knowledge of IT, automation systems, sustainable management of operations, community relations, and treatment of workers and unions. This inability to correctly deal with the soft aspects of the industry is troublesome, given how easily mismanagement in these critical areas can lead to the suspension or closure of a mining or metallurgical operation. It is therefore of utmost importance for the mining industry and those entering it not only to make production and revenue a priority, but to also focus on the underlying aspects of mineral extraction. “Earth science and engineering study programs in Mexico still lack solid focus on these aspects,” states Dávila.

Aspects of the Mexican mining education system still baffle many of those who have experienced education in other mining jurisdictions. For example, while Mexican universities do offer PhD programs for mining professionals, not a single university offers a Master’s program for mining engineering. This is precisely why CAMIMEX is collaborating with five universities to set up an online Master program. “We want the program to include courses from different universities. Unfortunately, the geographical location of each of the universities makes collaborations difficult,” Dávila adds. “Similarly, it is necessary for mining education to target markets other than the precious metals markets.”

Finally, geological and mining education efforts should not only focus on university courses, as there is a real potential to spark an interest in geology earlier in the education system. “Geology teaches you about the richness and potential that Mexico has. It is important since it gives our children and youth a wider perspective of the world,” Dávila believes. “Additionally, it is important for Mexican children to learn about mining and metallurgical processes to avoid fact manipulation in the media to distort the true reality of the Mexican mining industry.” He feels that current textbooks reflect a biased view of the mining industry, portraying it as predatory and unsafe. For this reason, CAMIMEX has created books and CDs with information on the mining industry for children. Moreover, CAMIMEX’s members donated funds for the creation of an interactive installation in Mexico City for children to learn about the inner workings of a mine and its processes. This has certainly been a success as it has been visited by 30,000-40,000 children a year since it was created.

These efforts have already begun to generate encouraging results. Dávila explains that the “enrollment in Earth Sciences programs has increased in recent years, and graduates from these careers now have a wider range of job possibilities now.” Nonetheless, he affirms that industry players need to make a real commitment to recent graduates, by focusing on the creation of new jobs and continuing to hire them, even during the difficult times. “After all, these students will be the executives of the future,” he states. This commitment is not only a moral commitment, it is an urgent necessity. Dávila explains that the Mexican mining industry is facing a near crisis, as most of the mining executives today are close to retirement. If young professionals are not given the opportunity to acquire industry experience, the Mexican mining industry will be left in the hands of unexperienced workers. “Alternatively, people from other industries will start coming into mining and taking up executive positions,” he adds. It is thus of the utmost importance to prevent this crisis, and remember what is important: the continuity of mining in Mexico.