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Russian engineers will be certified in accordance with English rules

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At the end of October, a closing ceremony of the Russian-British Raw Materials Dialogue was held in St. Petersburg. During the course of the event, Ian Bowbrick, Director of Membership and Professional Standards at the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, awarded 12 experts of the Russian National Association of Mining Engineers with certificates granting them power to accredit mining specialists on behalf of the Institute one of the most prestigious professional bodies in the world.   

Engineering certification will be the most important work direction of the International Competence Centre for Mining-Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO that was established on the base of St. Petersburg Mining University. More details on the Russian-British cooperation agreement have been provided by EUR ING Bowbrick in his interview to Forpost Nord-West. 

What are the main aims and objectives of the Centre?

From our perspective, the main aims and objectives of the Centre are to create a unified global competency model for mining and raw materials engineering. Another important aspect is related to the continuity of education and career development of mining engineers. Then its purpose is to help and assist companies to list on the London Stock Exchange and, finally, to encourage collaborative research between Russia and other countries around the world. That is a holistic view of what the UNESCO Centre can actually do.

Лондонская фондовая биржа
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What are the first steps in the Centre’s work?

The first step apart from establishing an office here, and we already have it done, is to establish what the baseline is. If we were to take the competency element of it, the work program that we have agreed with colleagues in Russia, is that we are going to look at all the competency models that exist globally, then identify the gaps and best practices. Then we are going to see what the appetite is for having an overall global standard. There are already some other models within engineering, such as, for example, the EUR ING umbrella standard, and this might be a way forward, as an overall standard.

Российско-Британский сырьевой диалог
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Who will be involved in this project - companies, organisations, other entities?

First of all, primary stakeholders for us are different associations, professional bodies around the world and also major employers. These latter two groups are particularly important for us. Individuals are also important stakeholders. There are some jobs where you have to be a part of the system, though it is not legally mandatory. There are number of obstacles to overcome across territories and across jurisdictions where the law is different. The biggest challenge is going to be in the countries and continents that do not have the history of applying the same principles as we do in the UK and in. Countries such as Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and the USA tend to have these models, they have inherited them from us and they have continued using them. However, there are lots of regions that do not have this sort of approach - Europe is a classic example, also the rest of Africa, and the Far East countries. They do not have these models in place. Therefore, it is going to be very interesting to see how they receive it and how it moves forward.       

Is there a need for a global unified certification assessment system?

To be honest, that is a very difficult question to answer. There are already some national systems in place, and, particularly in the mining engineering, they are very closely aligned. The bodies that certificate and license individuals - they are also very closely aligned. Besides, there is a number of agreements on mutual recognition in place. In my opinion, the real challenge will be to have everybody in the world doing something that is closely aligned whether it is a single system or it is a series of similar systems. That is what we are going to find out in the course of our work.

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How important is it for employers to have certified engineers within their staff?

I think it is very important. The recent history has shown that if people who work for you are not licensed or they are not accountable through some code of conduct, possibly under control of external body, then you have challenges. The odds arise if we are talking, for example, about oil & gas industry. There have been recent issues, that I cannot name for legal reasons but they are all over the news and in the media, where engineers have done things which are not, so to say, ethical. It is the same in mining - the blood diamond issue in Africa, illegal mining. These problems are the huge risk for the industry as a whole. Therefore, I think it is important that all professionals come under some sort of license and code of conduct. It gives a guarantee to employers who are looking to make a profit but running their businesses in an ethical way that they have the best trained and the most competent people working within their organisations. Of course, businesses are not only about money, they also provide jobs, they do training, but it cannot be done if people, which is the best and biggest asset of any company, are not competent.

Do you work with universities to promote the competency assessment system? What activities are carried out?

We work with various stakeholders, including universities. We accredit educational courses to ensure that the foundation, which is the knowledge and understanding that students need when they enter the workplace, is appropriate and correct. We recruit students from universities who will then stay with us and attain professional accreditation. We work with individual members - we help student graduates to become registered and chartered engineers. We also work with employers. Quite frequently, they come to us and say that there is a need to have some people in their company, and they have to be accredited specialists. We work with regulators as well. Regulators might for whatever reason turn around and say that within this particular profession now everyone needs to move towards some other kind of workforce. As for companies, some big companies in the UK have been finally taken over by foreign firms. They may have different sorts of requirements towards employee qualifications, so we work with those companies. Sometimes businesses secure new contract and they need to have people with professional accreditation to sign off the documents, such as documentation on the capital expenditure, design projects, safety systems and others. We work with those organisations as well. To conclude, we work with quite a broad range of stakeholders to promote competency framework and professionalism.

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Have you got any projects for schoolchildren?

Yes, but within the UK any interaction with schoolchildren is heavily regulated. One cannot just go into school and start some initiative with schoolchildren, because of the education system in Britain. Also, there is a national curriculum that our students have to follow. Anything they do would have to complement what they are already involved in and it should be aligned with key stages of learning. In total, there are four key stages of learning at school in the United Kingdom. We also have outreach programs. There is a member of our team who actually goes and visits schools and has a group of volunteers who also visit schools, as she cannot obviously cover all of the country, even though our country is smaller than yours. These people go in and they do projects with students, they talk about careers, they familiarise people with what we actually do and what the professionals do within our association, our professional body.

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

It gives the opportunity to do things at a more responsible level, such as signing off design and safety documents and other documentation. It gives their holders the opportunity to inform the Stock Exchange on mineral resources and reserves. It is also a demonstration of person’s competence. Certified specialists also enjoy more international career. People often forget that if they want to go and work abroad, even if they have already somewhat established reputation within their company, having this professional recognition is a sign to other people that they have reached a certain level and they can operate at certain level. Therefore, having been certified definitely enhances career opportunities.

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The UN established the Sustainable Human Development Programme, the implementation of which was delegated to UNESCO. This programme 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 Centre in sustainable development of those regions?

Basically, the competence recognition that we do will ensure that this work is done properly and ethically and people are not taken advantage of in any way. Besides, if the work is done by competent people, the results are going to be better. Quite rightly, in South America, Africa and some other regions they do not have this kind of infrastructure. There are also many examples of how those countries have been taken advantage of, particularly in Africa. Therefore, the idea of competence and recognition should be coupled with elements of ethical behaviour and ethical standard. The important issue is that work is done properly and ethically, but, of course, those who are competent have to prove first that they can deliver their work to an appropriate and acceptable ethical standard.

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This June, in London a number of agreements were reached. Vladimir Litvinenko, Rector of St. Petersburg Mining University and President of the Russian National Association of Mining Engineers, and Colin Church, Chief Executive of the Institute of Minerals, Materials and Mining (IOM3), signed an agreement on recognition of the Association as a regional representative office of IOM3. Thanks to the agreement and implementation of its principles within the framework of the International Competence Centre for Mining-Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO, new opportunities will arise resulting in higher efficiency of Russian mining industry in the global marketplace. The capitalisation of Russian public companies will be also affected positively through improving human resource capacity. As a follow-up to the agreements, two notable steps were taken. Firstly, this December, experts of the Association will conduct their first independent certification for professional engineering titles. The second step is to develop the youth community within the Association, whose primary purposes are to promote the ideas of competency framework and professional accreditation and explain the role of professional bodies in career development.