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Engineering skills shortages have reached critical levels in all countries


Researchers at the Colorado School of Mines - considered the best university in the world for the quality of mining training - have identified a paradox that threatens the sustainability of the entire human race. On the one hand, our civilization is consuming more and more resources. Moreover, the energy transition, that is, the massive adoption of renewable energy on a global scale, is only increasing the demand for many different metals.

On the other hand, young people are not eager to work in the mineral sector, largely due to the fact that subsoil use is perceived by today's young men and women exclusively as a process that negatively affects nature and contributes to climate change. That is, Western politicians and public organizations actively promoting the "green agenda" have provoked a significant transformation of the mentality of Generation Z. The vast majority of these people, unlike their peers of thirty and forty years ago, actively use the benefits of scientific and technological progress, but they do not want to recognize the obvious fact that the emergence of the same smartphones or laptops would not have been possible without the extraction and processing of minerals. For them, these are unrelated things.

"The mining industry has lost its luster and appeal to a new generation of leaders at all levels. There has also been a noticeable decline in interest in earth sciences in general. This is doubly troubling because we are completely dependent on the materials we mine in the Earth's crust. This means that the stable operation of the mining sector is a fundamental factor in further development, including the effectiveness of the transition to alternative energy sources. To give a small example: in the next 20-25 years, the world will need to produce as much copper as has been produced in the entire history of mankind," emphasized Walter Kopan, Vice President for Research at the Colorado School of Mines, during his testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources.


He said that the level of demand for some metals in the foreseeable future "will become unprecedented." And he asked the question: who will ensure their extraction and processing? After all, the shortage of qualified personnel can safely be called critical already now. And in the near future, given the constant growth of the average age of operating engineers and workers, it will be simply threatening.

"If we talk about the forecasts, they shock me without any exaggeration. Within the next six years, about half of the 221,000 employees of the U.S. mining industry are expected to retire. In other words, the very existence of the industry is threatened by the shortage of personnel and the lack of motivation among young people to work in mining companies," Mr. Kopan stressed.

Of course, this problem is relevant not only for the United States, but also for Canada, Australia, the European Union, Russia, i.e. for all countries without exception. The reasons for its emergence and transformation into one of the most serious challenges of our time are, of course, numerous. In addition to the excessive propaganda of the energy transition and deliberate discrediting of the modern mining industry by Western governments, there is also the lack of popularization of specialized professions and the reduction of programs in technical universities related to mining, mechanical engineering and metallurgy.


However, Mikhail Bulgakov said in his "Dog's Heart" that "destruction is not in the closets, but in the heads". And no matter how many places the state provides for training mining engineers, they may well remain unclaimed if the applicants are not initially "sharpened" to build a career in the industry.

"If your house is on the edge of the forest, it is not a guarantee that you will not freeze in winter. In order to keep the rooms warm, you need to cut down a tree, saw it and chop it for firewood. The same can be said for natural capital. By itself, it is inert. To turn it into natural, social and human capital, you need competent engineers and scientists. Their shortage is a colossal threat not only to the sustainability of Russia's economic development, but also to the very existence of our state, whose well-being largely depends on the efficient work of the extractive and processing sectors. That is why, on Vladimir Putin's instruction, we have started to improve the process of training engineering personnel in order to reduce their shortage at existing fields and industrial enterprises," said Vladimir Litvinenko, Rector of the Empress Catherine II Saint Petersburg Mining University.

The St. Petersburg university ranks third in the world in terms of the quality of training specialists for the mining industry, following the Colorado School of Mines and Australia's Curtin University. This year, for the first time in 20 years, fewer freshmen were admitted to bachelor's degree programs than to specialization, which means that in five and a half years about 200 more young engineers will graduate from this institution than in previous years. These are the preliminary results of the launched reform of the national higher education.

Горный университет
© Форпост Северо-Запад / Павел Долганов

"In 2023, applicants submitted over 40 thousand applications for admission to the Mining University, 5-7 thousand more than usual. The average competition amounted to 18 people per place. These figures make it clear that Russian young people still consider working in the mineral resources sector to be prestigious, understand that it is very important to obtain all the necessary knowledge and competencies to start a successful career, and support the constructive changes we have made to our curricula. I am sure we are on the right track and our work in terms of increasing the number of graduates in demand in the labor market (we can't say that about bachelors) will make the process of generational change in the industry as painless as possible", - Vladimir Litvinenko emphasized.

Of course, the popularization of engineering professions should not be limited only to the reforms of higher technical education. It is no less important to maintain the prestige of the mineral sector in the eyes of modern schoolchildren, to explain to them, starting from elementary school, the importance of the industry for sustainable development of the whole mankind. Only then, when they grow up, will they want to study to become drillers, geologists or, for example, operators capable of controlling several robotic machines at once. They will not, like their Swedish peers, skip classes in order to hold another rally against the extraction of a particular resource.