You have read every prospectus for every engineering course in the country and in theory the job looks ok. You have looked into the various roles throughout the entire mining process from exploration and feasibility studies through to build, production and even mine closure and land rehabilitation. But what is life actually like as a mining engineer? What should you realistically expect?
You will need an adventurous spirit, a curious mind and a hunger to travel to unique places. Remote locations are the norm (at least at the start of your career) which will mean living on site in mine camps or residentially in close knit mining communities. You could be working in the freezing cold at altitude on a mountain range or under the hot desert sun or in the steamy tropics. Mines are a 24/7 business which means working shifts, often on a 2:1 roster (weeks on/off).
So, if you prefer working indoors, regular hours and FIFO (fly in fly out) or living regionally isn’t your cup of tea, then mining engineering probably isn’t for you. On the other hand, if have a genuine passion for natural resources, thrive on challenges, relish problem solving and seek to work in a field that is at the forefront of innovation then it could be just what you’re looking for.
Mining engineer graduate numbers are falling, and the Australian mining industry is facing a critical skills shortage in the coming years. In an interview with the ABC earlier this year, Gavin Lind from the Minerals Council Australia said that graduate numbers have been in sharp decline since 2012. For example, just six students are enrolled to study mining engineering at the University of New South Wales this year down from 120 enrolments four years ago.
This may be attributed to the boom to bust, cyclical nature of the coal and iron ore sectors making for gloomy headlines. However, this can be very misleading. Any business is vulnerable to market forces but as we move into a low carbon world and transition to electric vehicles, a wide range of minerals will become an increasingly integral part of modern living and promises a robust future for aspiring engineers.
Mining engineers are held in high regard for their leading-edge technical knowledge, scientific expertise and problem-solving capabilities as well as their resilience and character that enables them to succeed in the most challenging of environments. Commitment to the environment and local communities and managing social issues also play a significant part in an engineer’s role. Most engineers start their career in the field but there are also opportunities to enter corporate office, government, consulting, finance and research fields.