What it takes to become an engineer in the mining game.

What it takes to become an engineer in the mining game.

Introduction.

The President of Indonesia has recently outlined some policy measures for his second term in office. One major policy is to improve Indonesia’s human resources, while another is to embrace technology, particularly Industry 4.0.

In the 80’s and 90’s there was a flood of hundreds of Australian, Philippine and other nationalities entering the Indonesian exploration and mining industry, as there were simply not enough suitable Indonesian graduates. The mining boom grew, and spread into the development of more Indonesian university mining courses. Around the time of the introduction of the raw ore export ban in 2014, we saw more Indonesian geologists finding work in Australia, at least until the Australian visa system was revised.

This article looks at the overall picture of Indonesian and Australian graduates in the geology, mining and metallurgy fields, along with their job prospects. It is somewhat surprising that the number of graduates in geology, mining and metallurgy is not well recorded in both Indonesia and Australia. Geophysics is becoming more frequently used in the Indonesian coal and mineral industry, but courses and graduates are typically directed towards the oil & gas industry, and are not looked at in this article. This article does not look into the nature of the education systems, nor its future direction, for which there are many on-line references and opinions.

Too many Indonesian graduates.

It Is understood that in 2019, Indonesia has about 70 universities/ higher learning bodies ready to graduate about 2,000 mining engineers, around 34 universities are ready to graduate perhaps 1,500 geologists and 6 university level courses are set to graduate about 250 metallurgists. These huge numbers reflect the lag in the recent resources boom, and it is understood very few graduates will actually get a job in their chosen profession. Fortunately, there is a broadening of some geo-scientific fields, such as Geo-Parks, broader government monitoring of the mining industry, the encouragement of the geothermal and water industries, along with geotechnical needs in bigger mines and civil structures etc, that may provide some jobs for such engineers. The Indonesian Mining Association (PERHAPI) has around 5,850 members of which 170 are CPI status and the Indonesian Geology Association (IAGI) have around 3,000 members of which about 150 have CP status.

There seems to be no official rating of Indonesian universities, and the apparent performance of some universities goes up and down, depending on their lecturers and general support.  Discussion with lecturers suggested most universities have yearly classes of 30 – 90 students per subject. Most of the established universities are in Java and receive students from all over Indonesia. There is a recent trend where each province wants to have its own university graduate programs in geology and mining to service their provincial needs. These relatively new provincial universities tend to have emerging education facilities, and typically produce graduates less equipped to be job ready or undertake higher studies.  Several industry professionals mentioned a different range of top universities, wherein the conservative consensus seems to include the following in the top university bracket.

  • Geology – Institute Technology Bandung (ITB), University Gadjah Mada (UGM), University Pembangunan National Veteran (UPN), University Trisakti (Trisakti), University Padjadjaran UNPAD, University Hasanuddin (UNHAS).
  • Mining – ITB, UPN, Sriwijaya.
  • Metallurgy – ITB, UI and recently started UPN.

The IAGI, in conjunction with other organizations, are looking into the data and quality of geology education in Indonesia, through the “Indonesian Association of Geology Engineering Education Programs (ASPRODITEGI/ Asosiasi Program Studi Teknik Geologi Indonesia)”. In 2016, this association started working with 20 universities spread across Indonesia.

The web site  https://campus.quipper.com/directory?study_field=Teknik%20Geologi  lists 23 Indonesian campus providing geological programs.

The web site  http://lingkar-tambang.blogspot.com/2016/03/daftar-jurusan-pertambangan-di-seluruh.html  lists mining studies at 24 universities, 5 Institutes, 2 Academies, 7 Polytechnics.

The web site  https://halokampus.com/jurusan-kuliah/teknik-metalurgi/  lists 6 universities providing metallurgy courses.

Indonesian Higher Education.

The Indonesian Higher Education Statistical Year Book of 2018 is based mainly on 2017-8 statistics. The report is produced by Pusat Data dan Informasi Ilmu Pengetahuan, Teknologi, dan Pendidikan Tinggi [Kementerian Riset, Teknologi, dan Pendidikan Tinggi] and provides statistics on Indonesian higher education by province and category of education, but does not provide numbers on individual disciplines. There are 2 different data bases used, that of the National Accreditation Board of Higher Education (National), and the Higher Education Data Base (HEDB). See Table 1.

Table 1. Indonesian Higher Education.

VARIABLE National HEDB National HEDB National HEDB
  Institutions Institutions Study Programs Study programs New Entrants New Entrants
University 581 563 14,104 13,238 1,111,495 1,038,811
Institute 214 91 2,973 1,216 126,533 60,596
Higher Learning 2,525 1,449 7,377 4,091 336,133 249,688
Academy 1,054 973 1,312 1,203 60,538 57,427
Community College 19 18 46 43 761 761
Polytechnic 277 199 1,967 1,363 96,848 64,873
 
VARIABLE National HEDB National HEDB National HEDB
Students Students Graduates Graduates Lecturers Lecturers
University 5,235,327 4,941,568 762,009 729,798 169,352 160,118
Institute 618,749 283,976 78,268 47,147 21,684 12,463
Higher Learning 1,577,807 1,251,226 266,082 227,565 66,602 51,376
Academy 244,203 226,235 65,094 58,372 17,041 15,170
Community College 1,837 1,837 463 463 89 89
Polytechnic 365,557 246,282 75,200 50,030 20,052 13,816

 

These vast figures indicate how small the impact of the exploration and mining industry is upon the larger university field in Indonesia.

Indonesian Graduates Overseas.

The Jakarta Post article “RI’s colleges struggle to compete globally” of 19 August 2019 states; “In January, the country saw at least 77,875 local students enrolling in foreign universities in 15 countries around the world, including SE Asia. The figure is almost seven times higher than the number of students originating from the same countries pursuing their study in Indonesia, which stood at 12,374”. This article goes on to discuss the international rating of Indonesian universities are typically poor, based largely around research parameters. This newspaper article is presumably written as part of a wider President supported policy to stimulate discussion on the improvement of Indonesia’s human resources, and employment.

Local Pay Scales.

The Jakarta Post article “Fresh grads grapple with salary question” of 10 August 2019 states that “According to recent data from Statistic Indonesia (BPS), the average monthly salary of fresh graduates in Indonesia aged 20 to 24 is slightly over Rp. 2 million. The article discusses the expectations of some graduates from recognized universities who look for a starting salary of between Rp. 4 – 10 million per month. The article concludes with “Without salary standards set by the government, fresh graduates, as well as other job seekers, have weak bargaining power, because they do not have a legal bases to negotiate their salary, they tend to accept anything offered by the company”.  The University of Indonesia (UI) is one of Indonesia’s top universities, wherein the fee structure is expected to be slightly higher that other universities. The UI web site shows fees for 2018/2019 academic year for bachelor program in geology to be an initial admission fee of Rp 17 million and tuition fee of Rp. 20 million per semester (two semesters per year). Indonesian degrees typically vary between 3 to 4 years.  Thus a 3-year graduate may have paid Rp. 137 million on basic tuition fees alone.

The Jakarta post story “After the resources boom, Jokowi turns to humans of RI” (20 Aug 2019) indicates the government intends to support improved human resources across Indonesia. The nature of the story suggests the priority will include education, research and cultural areas. We may hope the universities and courses supporting the mining industries will benefit, and so produce higher quality graduates for the mining and related industries.

Indonesian job skill gaps.

The recent Sumatra Miner (DMC) held in Palembang, and International 5th Drill and Blast conference (Petromindo.com) held in Jakarta showcased how Industry 4.0 is improving the Indonesian exploration and mining business sector. Advancing Indonesia’s “Industry 4.0” also has strong Presidential policy support. However, one side effect is a tendency to reduce manpower at the mine face (improves safety), and to have upskilled professionals operating more semi-automatic equipment. Exploration and metallurgy also have more 4.0 tools to give their engineers greater automation, though they still need to know their rocks and fundamentals.  One global miner executive recently stated in the international media, that they had reduced their work force by 50% over the past 5 years, and significantly increased productivity and profit margin. One independent analysis of this global trend mentioned that governments have taken a bigger share of such profits generated through Industry 4.0 initiatives, to leave the companies with a slightly less cash position than was the case before the improvements were introduced.

Professional discussion groups warn that the rate of change of new technology (Industry 4.0) is so rapid that management and universities can not keep up. By the time a graduate completes a three- or four-year degree course, the industry has advanced beyond what was taught, and that the University professors, and text references, are finding it hard to keep up with technology. Consequently, the “job-readiness’ of graduates may drop away, whereby each mining company, specialist consultants, or professional associations, will need to provide regular upskilling courses.

The recent MGEI brunch talk on turning small deposits into responsible mines identified a growing skill gap in greenfield exploration management. The prolonged moratorium on greenfield exploration in Indonesia has meant only a very few geologists form big miners, or their consultants, seeking acquisitions are engaged in limited forms of greenfield project targeting and assessment.

There are many well qualified and internationally experienced Indonesian geologists, miners and metallurgists working in Indonesia.

Opening the door for Indonesian Expats.

The traditional way for Indonesian’s in the mining sector to get an overseas job was to join an international company in Indonesia -show great performance, and then be posted overseas. Unfortunately, the present national policy is seeing more and more foreign mining houses leave Indonesia, and with them the opportunities for international experience is also significantly reduced. This leave a select few who may win a scholarship, or those wealthy enough to study abroad.

There are a few international consultancies remaining in Indonesia that employ and train Indonesian engineers. Some specialist consultants in metallurgy, geotechnical and hydrology also operate in Indonesia, with opportunities for high performing graduates to take on overseas assignments.

The professional associations of IAGI & PERHAPI plan to broaden their influence through ASEAN, to become professional leaders in Asia. This direction may see more Indonesian exploration, mining and process engineers working abroad as expatriates.

Australian Higher Education & Job Prospects.

Engineers Australia 2019 report on “Australia’s Next Generation of Engineers” reviews statistics of a broad range of engineering from Australian universities. TAFE and other training programs are not included in these statistics. Overall the trend is for less Australians and more overseas students to take up, and graduate, with engineering degrees. The Australian domestic number of engineering students peaked in 2015 with 68,028, but has since fallen to 66,458 students. Decline in post graduate courses is noticeable. The growth in overseas students is more pronounced in post-graduate courses. In 2017 there were 7,726 entry level coursework, and 9,911 post graduate commencements.  Overall the proportion of women engineering students for both domestic and overseas has slightly increased.

No statistic is presented specifically on geology, mining, metallurgy. However, some of these disciplines may be included in the broader category of Process & Resource engineering, plus Geomatic engineering. See Table 2.

Table 2. 2017 Engineering Enrolments.

Domestic Degree2017 3-year course 4-year course Double Bachelor Degree
Process & resource engineering 15 404 238
Geomatic engineering 0 0 0

 

Engineers Australia report onThe engineering profession; a statistical overview” of June 2019 indicates that the 2016 census shows there are slightly more overseas born practicing engineers (95,022) compared to Australian born (90,894). In 2016 there were a total of 44,982 women engineers in the work force. In 2016 only around 52% of qualified engineers work in the engineering profession, with the remainder in other jobs or unemployed.

Between 2006 and 2011 there was a great demand for engineers, but this collapsed with the end of the mining & construction boom. The number of foreign engineers arriving in Australia over recent years (till 2016) has been slowly dropping. Indonesia does not appear in the top 10 countries contributing engineers to the Australian work force in the period 2012 – 2016, though other Asian countries of Philippines (3rd) and Malaysia (9th) are significant contributors of engineers. Most engineers are engaged in “core engineering industries” that include mining, manufacturing, construction etc. Overall demand for engineers (to 2016) is growing at a slow pace, but also slower than the growth in new engineering graduates.

The long-term supply of domestic engineering students would seem to be reducing, as reflected in the near plateau of year-12 mathematics and science students. However, the number of year-12 students going through to engineering courses seems to be improving. Overall the entrance of domestic students into university degrees of engineering has been slowly falling. One survey shows that in 2018 the median salaries for men and women engineering graduates were equal at A$65,000 per year.

In 2015-16, some 13,265 permanent visas were granted to migrant engineers, that included 146 in 2013-4, 192 in (2014-5), and 178 in 2015-6). Temporary skilled visas for miners in Australia were 66 (2015-6), 47 (2016-7) and 53 (2017-8). New temporary skilled visas granted to mining engineers were 18 (2015-6), 33 (2016-7) and 31 (2017-8). The employment of qualified mining engineers over the broad industry in 2016 was 15,669, while the number of mining engineers employed in mining was 12,536 in 2016. In 2016 the % of qualified mining engineers in an engineering occupation was 80% in 2016. Employment growth has shifted away from core industries (including mining). In 2016 the estimated number of engineering occupations for metal ore mining was 5,266 (2.8%), oil & gas extraction was 2,956 (1.6%) and Coal mining with 2,316 (1.2%).

The overall picture of the engineering market in Australia for 2019 is that there is the entry of large numbers of new graduates into the market that was offset by a larger wave of retirements by older men, with fewer young qualified engineers taking up employment in engineering occupations. Skilled migration is still necessary to make up the difference.

Engineers Australia 2019 report onAustralian engineering vacancies report – trends to June 2019” shows that the past 12 months has seen a decline in engineering vacancies across Australia. Civil engineering job vacancies dominate the market, with mining being amongst several runner ups. Industrial/Mechanical/Production engineering vacancies as well as Mining and ICT engineering vacancies have consistently advertised between 500–800 positions per month nationwide. See Table 3.

Table 3. Number of Mining Engineer Vacancies.

State Mining vacancies April 2019 Mining vacancies May 2019 Mining vacancies June 2019
New South Wales 91 91 87
Victoria 26 31 29
Queensland 208 208 192
Western Australia 343 366 377
South Australia 29 33 29
Tasmania 9 6 5
Northern Territory 9 6 5
ACT 2 2 1

 

A general web search indicates the following Australian Universities supplying core graduates to the mining industry.

  • Mining Engineering (8) – University of Adelaide, Curtin University, the University of New South Wales, the University of Queensland, the University of Ballarat, the University of Wollongong and Monash University, University of Western Australia.
  • Geology (7) – Curtin University, University of Western Australia (UWA), University of Newcastle, Macquarie University, University of Tasmania (UTAS), Edith Cowan University (ECU), James Cook University.
  • Mineral Engineering/Processing (3) – James Cook, Curtin University, Murdoch University.

The Australian Minerals Tertiary Education Council produced a 2018 report on key performance measures in the fields of mining engineering [University of NSW, Queensland, Curtin and Adelaide], metallurgy [University of Queensland, Curtin and Murdoch] and minerals geoscience [University of Adelaide]. See Table 4.

Table 4. METC Universities Number of Graduates;

MTEC Universities 2017 Graduates 2018Actual 2019Actual 2020Actual 2021Actual
Metallurgy 21 26 31 20 20
Mining 156 107 68 55 53

 

AusIMM List of Australian Universities.

As at March 2017 the AusIMM web site has a list of AusIMM recognized University and the Undergraduate degree courses. This list is ;-  Geoscience courses (19 Universities with 62 Degree courses), Geotechnical Engineering (2 Universities with 2 Degree courses), Metallurgy, Materials and Chemical Engineering (11 Universities with 19 Degree courses), Mining Engineering (8 Universities with 12 Degree courses), Environmental Science (25 Universities with 27 Degree courses, and Associate Degree courses (2 Universities with 3 Associate degree courses).

Analysis.

It is clear Indonesia has simply too many graduates in geology, mining and metallurgy to fulfil domestic needs, and Australia seeks such foreign graduates to fulfil its needs. Both countries have similar work permit and immigration hurdles to allow a free flow of engineers between these countries. The Indonesian professional associations recognise an opportunity to launch Indonesian engineers into Asia.

The quality of Indonesian graduates is highly varied, reflecting the large and varied number of higher learning institutions. Indonesian graduates tend to want to graduate and look for a job, whereas more Australian universities encourage higher degrees before entering the work place. In response to Industry 4.0, all engineers will need to adjust their post-graduation profile through various upskilling programs, in order to keep their job, and to remain at the top of their profession

Within Indonesia, the fees of the better Indonesian universities are becoming so great as to question the financial viability in seeking an engineering degree in the moderately paid exploration, mining or processing fields. Should the Indonesian graduates from foreign universities return to Indonesia, then the lower Indonesian pay scale may not fully justify the overseas university fees.

We have to return to one of the prime drivers for students to choose a geology/ mining / processing engineering degree. That is the of love for their profession and what it brings to human development. In developing a successful mine, the social and material benefits to the local and global community are immense. The scientific understanding of our planet is an ever-increasing academic challenge

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