How mining companies should approach the talent pool deficit

The last mining downturn left us with a shortage of mining engineers, and the effects of this are far-reaching. Not only does the industry need to continue to focus on encouraging young people back, but graduate engineers who are at the beginning of their careers are facing a different trajectory of learning while they’re on the job. 

Here’s what we, as mining companies, need to remember as we face this challenge. 

The skills shortage has affected how engineers learn on the job. 

In the past, mining engineers had the benefit of learning gradually once they began working. Typically, in the early part of their careers, their focus would have been on learning how to do the immediate task at hand. Beyond that, it would have taken time – including time in the field rather than behind a computer screen – to understand the various processes and how they interact with each other. 

This broader understanding of the whole system includes getting to grips with the production process and schedule, identifying gaps as well as excess, and knowing what adds value and where compromises can be made. 

Unfortunately, this generation of mining engineers isn’t likely to have the same gradual and organic broadening of knowledge as their older counterparts. Because of dwindling graduation rates during the last downturn and the resulting gap in talent, there will no doubt be opportunities for rapid advancement and relocation for this generation. But, with a shortage of people to do the work, will they have the time in their day to leave their design work to experience the operational side of things in the same way that previous generations have? Probably not. 

Without this broader understanding, problems can arise. As a technically minded person starting out in the mining industry, it’s common to become immersed in the intricate details related to your respective design outcome. While this is inevitable, there is a risk of tunnel vision – focusing only on the aspects of the process that are important to your outcome, rather than on the overarching priority for the operation. Likewise, too much focus on short-term priorities can lead to a long-term bottleneck being overlooked, or other processes falling over, which puts the business at significant financial risk. 

Mining companies need to be proactive. 

The supply of mining engineering graduates remains in deficit. Even the most recent enrolments will not become a part of the mining engineering supply for at least another four years. Added to that, many students are deterred by the cyclical nature of the mining industry and are now opting for dual majors in business, commerce, economics and finance. So, some of these enrolments will now take five years to graduate and may never actually enter the mining industry. 

This talent pool shrinkage poses a real challenge to our industry, and mining companies need to take the long view when responding to it. We need to learn from our mistakes and maintain industry operating discipline. 

This means that, rather than ceasing sponsorships, vacation work experience and graduate employment programs – and thereby further crippling university enrolments – we need to support students and graduates. Even through downturns, the opportunity is there for engineering graduates to continue to be employed and be directly involved in the operational side very early in their careers, so that they can truly understand their trade. 

By at least guaranteeing their employment in an operational setting, we have the power to improve enrolment numbers and attract talented engineers who would otherwise be deterred by poor job prospects and security in our cycling mining industry.

MEC Mining are committed to each new contract: big or small

MEC works with a broad spectrum of companies, from the mid-range and fledglings to some of the mining industry’s biggest names.

This latter group are often staffed with their own experts, equipped with knowledge and experience but they still call on us to help them troubleshoot and problem-solve. This productive collaborative approach is very rewarding – for both parties.

One of the big operators engaged MEC last year, to run an options study on a copper and gold project in Western Australia. The three-month contract included reviewing their block model and running pit optimisation models for multiple scenarios.

Over a three month period, MEC reviewed the client’s current assumptions for applicability, such as Economic Assumptions (exchange and discount rates, ore prices and project CAPEX), Metallurgical and Ore Processing Assumptions, Load & Haul costs, Drill & Blast costs, Grade Control costs and Dilution losses.

24 Pit Shell scenarios were then generated and compared, changing operational constraints like ramp placement and different equipment combinations. One of the scenarios run was a comparison against the client’s parameters, while the other scenarios were options to improve the project’s profitability showing how an ‘outside’ perspective can often broaden options.

It’s always rewarding to work with clients whose knowledge helps us to expand our own, but, regardless of size, we are proud to approach each new contract with the same level of commitment.

Alessandro Dotta

New Appointee Bolsters MEC Mining’s Underground Metals Capability

In keeping with their positive and proactive approach to serving their clients’ needs, MEC Mining recently appointed Alessandro Dotta as the company’s Principal Underground Mining Engineer.

MEC General Manager Christofer Catania, welcomed Dotta’s arrival, particularly at this time, seeing his appointment as a welcome addition to the future planning taking place at the company. Catania explains, “While MEC adapted easily to the recent crisis, we are ready to hit the ground running as everyone returns to normality.” Catania views Dotta’s appointment as an opportunity for the company to emerge stronger in the Underground Metals field. “With Alessandro on board, we will be in an excellent position to offer expertise and support to our clients with underground metals operations and projects.”

Dotta is equally keen. “Working for a company like MEC with a progressive outlook is a gift. Despite the devastating hit of the recent pandemic, mines have been able to stay operational. Still, there are many clients out there looking for support and we’ll be here, ready to help problem-solve as they adapt in a changing landscape.”

Dotta joins MEC with an arsenal of qualifications and plenty of experience having worked on underground metals operations widely in Australia and overseas, most recently as Principal Mining Engineer with GEMS, Australia where he delivered strong results in a wide array of challenging situations.

Not only does Dotta come armed with a raft of experience across commodities, mining methods and software, his expertise in Cross-Functional Team integrations and Optimum Safety Compliance solidify his effectiveness. Among his areas of expertise, Dotta cites Underground Technical Services, Technical Studies, Mining Methods Review and Optimisation, Systems Implementation and Training as his repertoire. Whilst Dotta undoubtedly boasts an outstanding resume, he believes it is his adaptability and ability to communicate that is key to finding successful outcomes for his customers. He explains, “Each operation is unique and successful strategies emerge to solve problems once the crucial collaboration between us begins.” With fluency in three languages, Dotta is well placed to engage fully in those collaborations.

General Manager Catania feels Dotta’s ethos is just one of the reasons, he will make a great addition to the company. “Alessandro’s work ethic and practice strongly reflect the way we work at MEC. His experience and problem-solving approach mean that he will complement our already diverse and strong team.”


Virtual team building: 5 activities to get you started

COVID-19 has profoundly affected the lives of many worldwide and has resulted in many organisations implementing shifts to ensure business continuity. Whilst we endure through these challenging times, it is vital to ensure your team are continuing to connect.

But how can we connect as a team when we are not seeing each other? What does this mean for team building? 

The MEC Mining team see this as just another pivot we need to make. A global pandemic has changed many things, and this includes how to approach traditional team building to now using virtual methods. Although it is not the same catching up with your colleagues in person, there are so many ways around this. Here are our top five ideas to stay connected. 

  1. Virtual Dinner

This one is simple, yet effective! You can make this a truly fun time by giving your team a theme for cooking such as ‘Meals without a staple because they’re all sold out’ or a cuisine such as Thai or Italian inspired food.

This can make plenty of conversation starters for the entire team and allows you to connect through a video call and no speaking of actual work is needed.

  • Playlist collaborations

Everyone listens to music, so maybe it is time to get your team to make a playlist for everyone to listen to a day at a time! This way, your music library will be kept interesting with a variety of musical genres allowing for more conversation between your team. 

Perhaps your week could sound something like this: 

  1. Monday: Feel-good pop
  2. Tuesday: Your favourite podcasts – have different category each week
  3. Wednesday: Smooth Jazz
  4. Thursday: Throwback Thursday – do the top hits of a new decade each week
  5. Friday: RNB Fridays
  • Group chats

Now’s a better time than ever to have a team group chat – maybe one separate to speaking specifically about work.

Have one where you can virtually share your days, photos of your pets, a funny picture you have come across on your social media – it’s a good chance to laugh and bond as a team without the added stress or anxiety of speaking about work in the same conversation.

  • Entertainment recommendation club

Similar to a traditional book club, however, all forms of entertainment are welcome! Set a book, movie, or television series episode as the entertainment pick of the week. Have you all seen Tiger King?! Set a virtual meeting at the end of each week to discuss it.

Having one team member per week choosing the entertainment piece allows for a new experience for everyone or one person to share their all-time favourites.

  • Exercise classes

Finding the motivation to exercise is a little trickier now that our options have become increasingly limited. Get your co-workers together on a video call, choose an online workout and do it together!

You will be surprised how much more productive and harder you might work while exercising when people are doing it with you. It is a great and healthy way to bond and it also gives the team a new way to support each other.

While COVID-19 has forced many of us to adjust to a new way of socialising and working, technology has given us the benefit of still staying close while social distancing. Give these activities a go and your team will certainly notice the difference!

Does your Business Need An Extra Set of Eyes?

Today’s challenging business environment means everyone is short-staffed and under the pump. Pushed to their limits, it’s very hard for business owners to be innovative and challenge the status quo, when they’re constantly “fire-fighting”.

Often, CEOs or CFOs are too close to the business, too deeply immersed in the day-to-day grind, that they can’t take a much-needed pause to see the forest through the trees.

At MEC Mining , we often hear the tired phrases “we’ve always done it that way” and “we’ve tried that before and it didn’t work”.

It’s imperative businesses understand that being courageous with ideas is what separates the companies looking to maintain the status quo versus those who are looking to lead the pack.

There’s no doubt that the business environment has changed – investors and business operators alike are more risk-averse – but we must maintain the charge for innovation and challenge and change, for the better.

Just because something hasn’t worked before, doesn’t mean it won’t come to fruition in the future. And by bringing in a fresh set of eyes like MEC, you can often much more clearly see multi-million opportunities you may not have been able to pinpoint on your own.

Become a Better Leader in 5 Steps

Have you ever doubted your leadership skills, or thought maybe perhaps because you haven’t studied business management you wouldn’t be very good at it? The truth is, we all have the ability to become a leader as incredible as Ivan Glasenberg, CEO of Glencore. Leadership is an important function of management which helps to maximise efficiency and to achieve organisational goals. Leadership is the potential to influence behaviour of others. It is also defined as the capacity to influence a group towards the realisation of a goal. Leaders are required to develop future visions, and to motivate the organisational members to want to achieve the visions. According to Keith Davis, “Leadership is the ability to persuade others to seek defined objectives enthusiastically. It is the human factor which binds a group together and motivates it towards goals.” 

Here are five easy to follow step to focus on, in order to lead your team more effectively: 

1. Communication is key 

Clearly communicating to your team what you are trying to achieve, and setting a common goal is critical. Utilising every communication tool and ensuring you do so frequently by using online messaging platforms, email or face-to-face meetings, is paramount for leaders. 

2. Lead with positivity 

A positive attitude will go a long way to keeping your team motivated. It is important to transform your frustration into a positive and proactive approach. This problem-solving attitude will prevent your team from becoming too overwhelmed or burning out. 

3. Be honest, constructive and approachable 

Your team will be a reflection of the values you uphold, so it is important to be honest and genuine in your role. Many leaders develop a list of core beliefs and values that they strive to deliver with their team. When there is an issue, it’s important to air it out and squash it early. 

4. Tailor your approach 

When working with different people, remember that one approach to leadership will not work for everyone. Develop leadership skills that are dynamic and can respond to individual needs. Some team members may prefer to collaborate often, while others work better with a set list of tasks. Take the time to build your understanding of each person’s preference so that you can meet their needs. 

5. Walk the talk 

There is nothing more powerful for employees than observing the “big bosses” do the actions or behaviours they are requesting from others. Your team will appreciate that you are personally knowledgeable about the effort needed to get the work done. They will trust your leadership because you have undergone their experience. 

The World’s Most Versatile Metal? Top Five Silver Uses

Silver – that precious, shiny white metal – has traditionally been highly prized for its symbolism of wealth and prestige and its associated use in jewellery and coins. 

However, silver is currently much more commonly used for industrial, medical and electrical purposes, such as in household goods, solar panels and mobile phones. 

Rare and valuable, silver is highly coveted because it resists corrosion and oxidation, it is the best thermal and electrical conductor of all metals and it is antimicrobial and non-toxic. 

And talk about versatile – silver can be ground into powder, paste, shaved into flakes, converted into salt, alloyed with other metals, flattened into printable sheets, drawn into wires and more. 

Here are some popular silver uses: 

  • Eclectic electric: Small quantities of silver are used in electrical switches, plasma TVs, light emitting diodes (LED) and DVDs and CDs have a thin, silver recording layer. Another interesting electronic application of silver is in batteries that employ silver oxide or silver zinc alloys. And electronics demand silver of the highest purity: 99.99 per cent pure, also known as having a fineness of 999.9. But wait, there’s more – dissolving pure silver in nitric acid produces silver nitrate, which can be formed into powder or flakes. This material can be fabricated into contacts or silver pastes, which has many uses – such as the rear defrost in many cars, in electronics, circuit paths and in photovoltaic cells for the production of solar energy. Nanosilver, silver with an extremely small particle size, provides a new frontier for technological innovation as it requires much smaller amounts of silver to get the job done. 
  • Hot and cold: Brazing and soldering make excellent use of silver’s high tensile strength and ductility to create joints between two metal pieces. Brazing takes place at temperatures above 600C, while soldering takes place at temperatures below 600C. Silver scrap can be used in brazing and soldering because these processes do not require very pure silver. Brazing and soldering produce tight joints for everything from heating and air-conditioning vents to plumbing. And silver’s antibacterial properties and non-toxicity make it a great replacement for lead-based bonds between water pipes. 
  • Chemical reaction: Silver acts as a catalyst to produce two important chemicals: ethylene oxide and formaldehyde. Ethylene oxide is used to produce moulded plastics like plastic handles and flexible plastics, such as polyester. It is also a major ingredient in antifreeze. As a catalyst, silver increases the speed of reactions without getting used up. Now, that’s clever! 
  • My precious: Along with gold, silver has long been used as a precious metal in coins. In the past, people accumulated their wealth in the form of silver coins. Today, people covet investment-grade, pure silver bullion bars, coins or medallions. The fact that silver does not corrode and only melts at a relatively high temperature, not to mention its attractive lustre and malleability, results in this multipurpose metal being commonly used for designing and minting local currency. Many people also choose to invest in silver through financial tools, such as stocks and mutual funds. 
  • Shiny art: Silver jewellery and silverware are still popular today due to the precious metal’s malleability, reflectivity and shiny lustre. However, because silver is so soft, it must be alloyed with base metals like copper, as in the case of sterling silver, which is made up of 92.5 per cent silver and 7.5 per cent copper. Less expensive than gold, silver is also a fashionable choice for fine dining dishes, plates and accompanying silverware – and these can often be ornately crafted works of art. 

Potash – The Essential Element

Potash is the general term for potassium bearing minerals. It was named after the extraction process used in the pre-industrial era when wood ashes were immersed in water and leaching took effect. When the solution evaporated sediment of potassium carbonate was left behind on the inside of the large iron pots.  Potassium is a highly reactive alkaline metal and is not found in isolation in nature. It readily forms compounds in the form of chlorides, nitrates, carbonates, bromides, cyanide, sulphates and hydroxides. Known by its chemical name K, potassium is an essential element to both plant and human life. 

Potash is the seventh most abundant element in the earth’s crust. The world’s leading producers are Canada, Russia and Belarus. Current extraction levels are in the region of 35 million tonnes per year and demand is growing. Most potash is extracted from underground salt deposits. As the world population continues to grow, the pressure is being placed upon primary producers to maximise crop yields. But in turn, intensive farming methods can rob the soil of potassium which must then be replenished to sustain levels of production. Potassium is essential for all animal and plant life in order to thrive and survive.  Perhaps no surprise then, that the dominant use for potash is for fertilizer. But compounds of potassium have many applications. 

Let’s look at the leading uses for potash : 

  • Leading by a country mile– The primary use for potash around the globe is for fertilizer. Potassium is needed by plants to take up water, synthesize sugars for growth, and enable disease resistance. Potash fertilizer also improves plant formulation, the taste of end product and boosts flower quality. Another vital role in agriculture is in animal feed supplements. Potassium is crucial in the diet of dairy cows and supplementation can significantly improve milk production. 
  • You are what you eat – potassium carbonate is regularly used in food production, particularly as a leavening agent in baking. Another commonly used compound, potassium metabisulphite is used by the brewing and winemaking industries. It works as an antioxidant and limits the growth of wild yeasts and bacteria in your favourite drink.  Cheers! 
  • Getting into a lather – potassium hydroxide is used in soap making. It has greater solubility that of sodium soaps.  This means the soap needs less water to liquify. It is also used to make detergents and dyes. 
  • Kill or cure – there are many pharmaceutical applications for potassium in health care. It is an essential element to life where both deficiency and excess can be fatal. Our potassium requirements are usually met easily through our diet so supplementation is rarely needed. Exceptions include certain health condition or taking medications that rob your body of potassium. More common uses include saline drips and potassium permanganate for the treatment of various skin conditions. 
  • Softly softly – potassium chloride can be used in the treatment of water. Some people enjoy softened water in their homes for better bubbles in the bath but soft water is also a significant requirement in an industrial setting. Many manufacturing processes utilize large volumes of water, which if left untreated leave damaging sediments in pipelines and equipment. Potassium chloride is considered an environmentally friendly option as the residue from the process is taken up by plant life. 

For generations, potash has been recognised as pivotal for growth and sustaining life. But as the world faces increasing pressure to utilise land more efficiently for optimal food production, potash is a commodity that is very much back in the spotlight. 

Why I Have Made It My Mission To Connect With Every Mining Engineer In Australia

If you type the words mining engineer into LinkedIn and limit the location to Australia the search shows around 5,700 people. Not that many when you consider the scale of the Australian mining industry. This is just enough people to fill 11% of Suncorp Stadium or only 6% of the MCG. It is little wonder that as the industry heats up we are all struggling to find resources from such a small pool of people. It does, however, raises some interesting questions: 

  • With a relatively small number of people, why is there not more collaboration? 
  • Why do we struggle to share information and potentially mitigate, making the same mistakes that others may have already solved through the school of hard knocks? 
  • Why isn’t there an easier way to leverage this network when searching for new talent? 
  • How many degrees of separation are there from all the other mining engineers in Australia and yourself? 

This is why I have made it my mission to connect with every mining engineer in Australia because I believe we can do better in all these areas. By increasing the collaboration and sharing amongst our peers with more ongoing communication; sharing career advice; offering our time to mentor and coach the next generation of talent; communicating on the job learnings, and most importantly creating a community that encourages the next generation of students to consider mining engineering as a worthy pursuit. 

Have a think about your connectivity to these 5,700 engineers, what is your first level connection %? How close are you to only one degree of separation from all our peers in the industry with your second level connection %? And what are you doing to share the info you come across on a daily basis with this group? 

Please share this article to help get all mining engineers connected and collaborating, our industry will benefit as a result. 

Written by  Simon Cohn 

Top 3 Nickel Uses – The Power Metal

Nickel is a chemical element with symbol Ni and atomic number 28. It is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge. 

It belongs to the transition metals category and it is hard and malleable. The metal is extracted from its ores by heating and reducing the ore. 

Nickel-containing materials play a major role in our everyday lives – from food preparation equipment through to mobile phones, medical equipment and transport, buildings and power generation. 

Australia’s share of world economic resources of nickel was 23 per cent in 2014. The Philippines is the world’s largest nickel-producer, closely followed by Russia, Canada and Australia. 

Here are nickel’s top three important uses: 

  1. Mix and match: More than 80 per cent of nickel production is used in alloys. There are up to 3000 nickel-containing alloys in everyday use. About 90 per cent of all new nickel sold each year goes into alloys, with two-thirds going into stainless-steel manufacturing. When alloyed with other elements, nickel imparts significant toughness, strength, resistance to corrosion and various electrical, magnetic and heat-resistant properties. Stainless steel, in turn, is used widely in the chemical and construction industries, motor vehicles and in consumer products such as sinks, cooking utensils, cutlery and whitegoods. 
  1. Power metal: Nickel is a vital part of several rechargeable battery systems used in electronics, power tools, transport and emergency power supply. Most important today are nickel-metal hydride (NiMH). Iron and nickel alloys are the most widely used in electronics and specialist engineering. And nickel is also a key ingredient in many catalysts used to make chemical reactions more efficient. Talk about power! Nickel is also used in mobile-phone electrical connections, capacitors and batteries. 
  1. Money talks: Today, copper-nickel alloys are popularly used for coinage, with nickel itself having a long and illustrious history of being utilised in US coins. The US five-cent piece (known as a ‘nickel’) is 25 per cent nickel and 75 per cent copper. However, due to the metal being a skin allergen for some people and the fact that today cheaper metals are available, the element is no longer as widely used in coinage. The initial design of the US Shield Nickel was struck from 1866-1883, but was then replaced by the Liberty Head nickel. The Buffalo Nickel was introduced in 1913 as part of a drive to increase the beauty of American coinage; in 1938, the Jefferson Nickel followed. In 2004 and 2005, special designs in honour of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition  the first American voyage to cross what is now the western portion of the United States  were issued.