A recent report on Canada’s mining sector suggests that there may soon be a rebound in the industry, but it warns that a drop in the number of mining engineering graduates needs to be countered with educational reform to achieve sustainability.
The Mining Industry Human Resources Council’s (MiHR) annual Canadian Mining Labour Market Outlook 2019 notes declining enrolment in mining engineering programs and highlights key occupational gaps in mining employment on- and off-site.
According to the study, undergraduate mining engineering program enrolment dropped 12% between 2015 and 2016, the largest decline of all engineering programs.
“Changes are happening so fast in the industry, it is very difficult to keep up,” said Scott Dunbar, associate professor at the Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
“We don’t teach enough [technology] – part of our strategic plan is to teach more of it but as far as educators are concerned, we are falling behind,” said Dunbar.
Dunbar is quick to admit that UBC and other Canadian schools have not adapted quickly enough to keep up with industry demands, and now the education system is playing catch-up.
“In the last two years things have exploded, and [the curriculum] hasn’t changed fast enough,” said Dunbar.
“There are some major changes going on in respect to data science and machine learning.… We are introducing a new course in the next term that focuses on technology and data science.”
Another factor Dunbar thinks has contributed to decreased program enrolment is that the industry has not shed the perception that it is “dirty.” Sustainability and long-term job prospects must be at the core of all the technological advancements if there is going to be an adequate number of new entrants to the industry, he said.
The MiHR report predicts that the industry will need to hire roughly 97,450 workers over the next 10 years to satisfy market demand. The report also notes that an increasing number of mining program graduates, not just engineers, will need to be heavily steeped in STEM learning – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – to adjust to new technologies.
In 2029, mining employment is expected to be most substantial in the extraction and milling sub-sector (49%), followed by primary metal manufacturing (24%), support services (14%) and exploration (13%), according to the MiHR outlook.
Over the past three years, extraction and milling has been responsible for the largest share of the industry’s employment growth at 39%, followed by primary metal manufacturing. The outlook predicts that most employment growth over the next 10 years will come from support services (33%) and extraction and milling (29%).
It’s projected that next year, about 217,040 workers will be employed in the mining industry, an increase of roughly 3% from 2018. •