STEM skills development is attracting attention from mining companies across Australia. Vanessa Zhou looks into what South32, Gold Industry Group and Evolution Mining are doing in this space.
The development of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills among young learners isn’t just being driven by education institutions.
South32, Gold Industry Group (GIG) and Evolution Mining are part of a mining industry community that is looking to enhance the skills of the future generation.
Guided by the belief that quality education is the foundation of economic and social prosperity, South32 is running STEM programs in almost every state across Australia.
South32’s Cannington operation works with the Queensland Minerals and Energy Academy (QMEA) to help more than 150 students at seven schools to develop their STEM skills, increasing female and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation.
According to South32, 92 per cent of last year’s participants reported they had learned something new.
The teachers involved also say the program raised their awareness of the resources sector or improved how they teach STEM subjects.
In New South Wales, South32’s Illawarra Metallurgical Coal division has partnered with Wollongong’s Science Space to develop the STEM skills of 675 students at eight schools.
It is one of the company’s initiatives that has been delivered in 2020 despite COVID-19 restrictions.
The pandemic inspired South32 to team up with Science Space to create kits containing STEM equipment, experiments and projects in line with the state’s curriculum.
South32 has helped year three and four primary students to learn from home when they couldn’t visit and interact with the educational displays at Science Space.
The company has helped hundreds more students in Tasmania, the Northern Territory and Western Australia to build STEM skills through programs.
“South32 has been investing in education initiatives since the company was established more than five years ago. Education and leadership are community investment priority areas,” a South32 spokesperson tells Australian Mining.
Inclusivity and diversity are also a core focus for the company, which is committed to creating opportunities for minority groups in the resources sector.
South32 partners with the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation (AIEF) to support Indigenous students throughout their schooling up to year 12.
Under the agreement, AIEF scholarship students will include Indigenous children from communities in which South32 operates in across Australia.
“Quality education is one of the cornerstones of changing lives and through our partnership with the AIEF we are supporting the development of emerging and future community leaders,” South32 chief executive officer Graham Kerr says.
“We want South32 to be an employer of choice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and this partnership will help many young people on their future career path.”
The gold mining sector has also maintained a strong commitment to STEM programs despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Gold Industry Group (GIG) has distributed 300 gold resources kits to primary and secondary schools in every state and territory for free, attracting a high volume of interest in the industry and a demand for further engagement.
The unique gold resources kits include real rock and gold samples, such as shale rock, dolerite rock, gneiss rock, pegmatite rock, basalt rock, as well as a gold leaf vial and a geological hand lens, and form part of the GIG’s national gold education program.
The kits also include a teacher’s guide, careers in gold poster and gold specimen map to guide students and teachers through the rock samples and associated interactive activities.
“We produced an additional 500 of the gold resources kits this term due to the ongoing positive feedback and demand,” GIG executive officer Rebecca Johnston says.
The easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Western Australia has also allowed the GIG to resume delivery of its gold sessions at schools in the state.
Through this program, a number of superintendents, metallurgists, environment advisors, exploration geologists and personal assistants to general managers from GIG member companies have been trained and have delivered 37 gold sessions at 15 schools in Perth, Kalgoorlie, Kambalda and Norseman.
The facilitators hail from AngloGold Ashanti Australia, Evolution Mining, Gold Fields, Gold Road Resources, Northern Star Resources and Westgold Resources.
Johnston says a facilitator doesn’t need to be a geologist or be in a certain role to become a gold class facilitator. All that is needed is a passion for educating the next generation about their role and the wider gold industry.
“It’s quite unique and rewarding for employees to go out to classrooms and share their passion and knowledge with the students and teachers,” she says.
“They get a lot out of delivering the gold sessions to their local schools, with many eager to present more in the near future.
“Students are really engaged with the activities and excited to have people from the gold industry interact with them in a different way.”
Primary school students in year four, five and six are taught how to create pulley systems in the classroom and how important safety is within the gold industry.
Gold Fields personal assistant to general manager at St Ives, Annika Turnbull, says it is fantastic to watch the students work through different ideas to get the ‘gold bar’ up the incline.
“They were creative in their thinking but came up with some great methods using the pulley systems. We even had one group ask if there was an extra ramp they could use so they could pull their bar up the ramp and then down the other side,” she says.
Seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth graders, on the other hand, become geologists in an exploration activity and are tasked to find gold deposits using a map.
At the end of the sessions, facilitators share stories about their career and experience in the gold industry.
“Our gold education program has evolved over the last three years. It started with the Heart of Gold Discovery Trails in Perth and Kalgoorlie, which invite students to discover the rich history of a city built on gold through a virtual experience, and has since expanded to offer much more on a national scale, enabling GIG members to champion their industry,” Johnston says.
The GIG plans to deliver the gold sessions as part of its national gold education program across other states and territories in Australia as the COVID-19 restrictions ease.
Evolution Mining, a GIG member company, has partnered with the QMEA since 2018-19 to deliver an educational program.
The gold miner has directly engaged with around 250 students through the program this year.
Year nine students at Home Hill and Ayr State High School have been tasked to create gold-plated designs when demonstrating their skills to Evolution’s team at the Mt Carlton operation in Queensland.
In a Beakers.Bots.Build workshop run by the QMEA, students used Lego EV3 robots and created an “ore sorting” device from craft materials as they explored the processes of mining.
Evolution vice president – sustainability Fiona Murfitt says as one of Australia’s largest gold miners, the company believes it has an important role to play in attracting and supporting the next generation of people in the mining industry.
“As part of this we seek to work with industry groups and schools around our operations to educate students about careers in the mining industry,” Murfitt says.
“A critical part of this is having people with skills in the STEM subjects and showing how these fields can lead to rewarding and diverse career opportunities.”
Evolution has further engaged in STEM skills development by being involved in a hackathon with Unearthed Sydney 2018.
The company presented operational challenges such as modeling concealed gold at the Mt Rawdon mine in Queensland and optimising truck payload and cycle speeds at the Cowal gold mine in New South Wales.
Hackathon winner Thaum has continued to work with Evolution on several projects as a software development and technical consultancy, such as a seismicity study at the Mungari mine in Western Australia.
Evolution’s pipeline of programs include participation in a vacation and graduate program every year.
The company welcomes applications from second, third or final year undergraduates for a 12-week vacation program, providing them with access to a manager who will supervise their day-to-day activities and give one-on-one feedback and coaching.
Participants are also given the opportunity to join operational and personal development training that focusses on safety and business skills.
They are then potentially set up for an enrolment into Evolution’s two-year graduate program.
Mining companies and institutions have shown that STEM skills development takes a whole sector approach.
With the issues of skills shortage so pertinent in the industry, progress is being made for positive change in the coming decade.
This article also appears in the November edition of Australian Mining.