It’s easy to see how five years spent studying engineering, geology, or the physical sciences could help you to secure a job in mining. A mine needs people who can perform the obvious tasks, like performing seismological tests, identifying target minerals (or places where they’re likely to be found), and performing analyses on prospecting data. For the most part, these people are engineers, geologists, and other scientists.
However, it’s important not to let the overwhelming focus on graduates from a few prominent disciplines obscure the diversity of academic backgrounds represented by mining sector employees, many of whom use unexpected skills to fill vital managerial, administrative, and other support roles. They deserve some attention too: so, to correct the record, here are five degrees you mightn’t expect could lead to a job in mining.
Big names like Shell, Rio Tinto, and BHP often recruit business graduates to work within their corporate and commercial branches, where they focus on analysis, business management, and administration. Business graduates are often employed by mining organisations to work in human resources, finance, supply chain management, contracting and procurement, sales, policy development, marketing, external relations, and cost modelling.
Humans have been extracting minerals from the earth’s crust for millennia, and the basics remain more or less the same: you need to find the target resource, dig it up, and transport it to consumers. Nevertheless, the methods by which mining companies achieve this goal are changing fast, as the industry responds to new technologies and trends, such as automation and 3D modelling.
This is where computer science and IT graduates play a critical role, using their skills to support mining companies as they lean on software solutions to manage internal business processes and networks, control sophisticated equipment (such as the machines used to crush ore), securely store data, and contribute to modernisation projects. For example, computer scientists were integral to Rio Tinto’s successful development of a fully automated rail link for transporting minerals in the Pilbara.
Organisations in the mining industry must address various audiences, including shareholders, people concerned about the environmental impact of certain activities, prospective employees, regional communities (which often develop around mining centres), the government, and more. This is a task that commonly falls to people with a background in communications, journalism, public relations, marketing, and other related disciplines.
Mining organisations recruit these professionals to positions such as ‘external relations manager’, ‘corporate communications lead’, and ‘community relations officer’. While the titles vary, the goal remains more or less the same: to build and sustain the company’s reputation and brand within the industry, while using highly developed communication skills to develop beneficial relationships with internal and external stakeholders.
Where there is money, there is a need to manage money: and in the Australian mining industry, which is worth some $120 billion, the need is great indeed. Hence the tendency of mining companies to recruit accounting graduates to positions in finance, where they’re responsible for tasks such as financial analysis and modelling, risk management and internal control, planning, target setting, budgeting, and business reporting. Because they occupy a primarily administrative position, few accountants in mining organisations are permanently stationed within regional mining areas, making this one of the few careers in mining that is more likely to suit somebody who prefers a metropolitan lifestyle.
From contract negotiations to large mergers and acquisitions (the $113 billion acquisition of Mobil by Exxon was one of the biggest deals in history), mining companies are involved in a range of legal processes that they navigate largely with the help of robust in-house counsel departments. As a lawyer working for a mining company, you could find yourself involved in financial processes (such as mergers, acquisitions, and taxation), contract negotiations, capital raising initiatives, commercial arbitration, and cases related to environmental protection.