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Why would a Russian engineer need a British certificate?

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As early as 2019, Russian mining engineers may already apply for full membership at the British Engineering Council, one of the most prestigious professional associations in the world. In order for that to happen, an agreement on recognition of the Russian National Association of Mining Engineers as a regional representative office of the UK-based Institute of Minerals, Materials and Mining (IOM3) should be signed first. After that, British partners will transfer exclusive rights to accredit mineral and raw material specialists as holders of the titles "Professional Engineer" and "Fellow Engineer". In his interview to "Forpost", Colin Church, its Chief Executive, explained the importance of these events.

- Dr. Church, currently a number of agreements are being prepared between Russia and the UK. These agreements should dramatically expand the possibilities for international certification of engineers in mining, oil and gas, chemical industry, construction and other areas. In the United Kingdom, IOM3 is responsible for certification. In Russia, the right to issue international certificates will be delegated to St. Petersburg Mining University. What exactly are we talking about here? Can you tell us more about the Institute?

- The Institute of Minerals, Materials and Mining is 150 years old this year, and it covers people who work in any area of materials and mining. We describe ourselves as a global network for materials cycle – from materials extraction, characterization, to use and end of life, including the ‘cradle to cradle’ use of natural resources.

- In 150 years, how many people passed through the Institute and got the certificates? What are the numbers – both in the UK and globally?

- It is really a difficult question to answer. The truth is that some of our individual members are over 100 years old, and they have been our members for 70 or years or more. We also have people who have been our members for only three to five years. That is why it is so hard to answer that question. If we talk about the numbers though, it is certainly hundreds of thousands. About a quarter of our members are based in countries other than the United Kingdom.

Колин Чёрч
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There are two types of professional qualification that we offer. The first is professional membership of IOM3. The membership grade depends on the level of academic qualifications, experience and relevance. It could be Technicians, Graduates, Professional Members, Fellows and a few others. The second type is professional registration or chartered registration. These are Charted Engineers, Charted Scientists, Charted Environmentalists, as well as Registered and Technician grades. At the moment, we have about 15,500 individual members in total. The vast majority of them are professional members; only around 40% of them are probably chartered. We cover quite a wide spectrum of activities, for example, for many people from the packaging industry, Chartered Engineer or Chartered Scientist may not be suitable or relevant for them. On the other hand, a much higher proportion of mining engineers are chartered.

- What does the certificate of mining engineer provide? How does it affect the person who has obtained it?

- If you are professional member of the Institute, then you have access to a range of benefits – most importantly, professional recognition. If you meet somebody and the person’s business card says that she or he is a professional member, you can be sure that this is a proof of competence and reaching certain level in the profession. For some people, this membership is also a license to practice. That means they must have it in order to be able to do that job. For example, if somebody wishes to sign off reports on how much mineral resource or reserve there is in a deposit, that person must be professional with that expertise and competent to do so. If people have this level of expertise, then they can operate in most countries of the world. Back to chartered registration, a person can be a professional member but not chartered in IOM3. On the opposite, you cannot be charted if you are not a member. Chartered Engineer is a globally recognized qualification under the Washington Accord and under the EU’s mutual recognition rules. Major countries such as Russia, the US, Australia, South Africa, Brazil and China recognize it, as does most of the rest of the English-speaking world, all of the EU, much of Latin America and many countries in Asia.

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In the UK, one can hardly meet an engineer who lacks an IOM3 certificate. These specialists are highly required. Most of European companies keep the pool of certified engineers. Otherwise, neither the state, the public nor the clients or investors will take the company seriously.

- Before entering the Russian market, which is a vast market and many mineral resource businesses have been already operating on the market, did you make any estimates of qualifications of Russian engineers?

- Before we developed relationship with the Mining University, we already had some members in Russia. When those individuals approached us, we went through our standard process of assessing their competence. Of course, the relationship with the National Association means that we can take a different approach. We can now rely on the quality judgment of the Association to help the assessment.

- Russian representative office will be recommending engineers for accreditation by IOM3, but how would IOM3 control this process?

- We call them a "local society" and we have an agreement, which hopefully we soon are going to sign between the National Association and IOM3. One agreement establishes the local society and the second one sets out the rules for how we work together for professional registration. We are in the process of training our Russian colleagues from the Mining University to do some of the assessment, and there will also be an element of the assessment in the UK as well.

- As far as I understand, those who get the certificate on behalf of IOM3 in Russian Federation, they will be part of the British Engineering Council, will they?

- They can be if they are suitably qualified and wish to be. As I said, one can be a member without being chartered. It is possible that some Russian members may prefer only to be a professional member and not to be chartered. Of course, if the person wishes to apply for both, it is also possible. In another way, one can already be a professional member and a few years later apply for chartered registration. Thus, it can be done either in the same time or separately. My expectation is that a majority of people who would come forward they would do both because they are already at that stage in their careers. But, for example, some of the students in the University would be eligible to be student members, but that would not mean that they could also be chartered engineers. They need to have some experience first.

- What is a main criterion for a student, who has just graduated, has a little bit of experience but want to become a charted engineer?

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- You would need the equivalent of a Master’s level qualification and a minimum of 4 years of relevant experience. You would also need referees to recommend you.

- How many referees are required?

- Two is enough.

Apart from the relevant education background and work experience, an applicant for certificatation should also have a good command of English. The applications are handled remotely, but a person is required to attend a personal interview. As a result, an application is either rejected or approved. In case of approval, the person becomes a professional member. The Russian representative office will lead on recommending candidates in mining engineering for accreditation by IOM3– for professional members only and for chartered professionals as well.

- What other work would Russian representative office do apart from assessment of the candidates?

- Usually the main focus of the local society is to provide a venue for local members – seminars, social events and mentoring.

- There is also a second agreement, which is to be prepared soon. This agreement concerns establishment of the function centre on the base of the International Competence Centre for Mining-Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO. What would be the core meaning of the agreement?

- The overall aim of the UNESCO center is to effectively promote competence in the mining engineering. One key element of that is the professional competence of engineers. That is the focus of the cooperation between the UNESCO and IOM3. The suggestion is that we, both IOM3 and Competence Centre, would lead the work to develop a common standard for mining engineering at different levels of experience and competence that would then be accepted widely – both in countries that currently do not have their own system of professional recognition, as in many parts of Africa or South America, and in the countries that already have their own standards but they wish to use this system, such as the United States or Canada.

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- The UN established the Sustainable Human Development Program. Implementation of that program was delegated to the UNESCO. This program presumes that sustainable development of Africa, Latin America, the Middle East is possible only through development of mining industry. What would be the role of standards developed by the Competence Center in sustainable development of these regions? How do you think it will affect these regions?

- The current professional engineer standards in the UK include a strong element of ethics and respect for sustainable development and the environment. I would expect that whatever global standard we develop also would have both an ethical and a sustainable development angle to it. As people adopt the standards, they will understand that complying with them is an element of professionalism and act accordingly. I see it as an important although slow burn way of improving the standard of mining in a number of countries.

- Let us take as an example the country as Angola. It is unlikely that there is an accepted system of standards at the country. For instance, Angola adapts new mining standards. What would it mean from the angle of industry development for Angola?

- Each country differs from the others. It wound depend, amongst other things, on how good the rule of law is, the level of corruption, the degree to which mining is undertaken by artisans or smaller companies versus bigger companies, and a number of other factors. When it all works well, mining companies employ only people that meet professional standards and they do better jobs at protecting the local communities and the local environment. On the other hand, it takes time to make a difference. If you have one engineer who thinks the same way and ten engineers who do not support this view, you get less progress than if it were the other way around. It takes time to train engineers so as to ensure that they are qualified.

- As Russia is a market where a lot of professionals have been operating for a long time already, it is clear that bigger companies would support new mining standards, whereas the smaller ones would rather oppose them. There is an idea that Russian companies should be estimated not only from the prospective of their assets but also from the prospective of human resource capacity – in other words, how many certified professionals and engineers work in their companies and are able to improve the performance of those companies. Are the certificates and recognition among these tools?

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- It depends on what we are looking for. If we are talking about the current charted engineer, it gives an idea of individual standard. The investor should take that into account. What we do not have at the moment is a very clear picture about how much it should be taken into account. Does having 80% of charted employees mean that the organization will be 5 or 10 or 15% more profitable or reliable? What is the metric? How would you relate those? That is one of the things that we, the UNESCO Center and IOM3, are talking about.

In Britain, one out of 300 people is an engineer, in Africa – only one out of 7,000. The only way to boost the economy of the continent is to train mining engineers. In Russia, quantitative indicator is as follows: five percent of the employed population is engineers. However, after transition to the Bologna system, the quality of training is no longer at its best level. As opposed to the former five years, students do not have enough time to conduct practice studies in four years.

Engineering certification would be undoubtedly beneficial for both the engineers themselves, as they will be no longer perceived as migrant workers in the Western countries, and for the large companies focusing on capitalization of their businesses. In the same way, certification system will not be beneficial for non-professionals and empty shell companies.

In Russia, numerous companies, such as PhosAgro or Rosneft, and even entire regions – the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region – have already decided to cooperate with the International Competence Centre for Mining-Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO. The National Association of Mining Engineers consists of eight industry sectors – geologists, chemists, oilmen and others.

Accreditation in accordance with IOM3 procedure cannot be a panacea but would rather serve as a mechanism for increasing efficiency of these industries in the global marketplace. It is also not a substitute for the other evaluation tools applied to publicly listed companies but a logical addition to them.