By James Seaford
Since its inception the Minerals Tertiary Education Council (MTEC) has relentlessly pursued the development of world-class education for a world-class minerals Industry. The minerals industry recognised that the delivery of education in Australia’s universities had to change if the industry was to maintain and grow its international competitiveness. In October 1999, the industry developed a course of action to ensure the supply and quality of technical professionals. Through the unique, nationally collaborative, world-first and world-class MTEC programs, minerals tertiary education in Australia has been supported to the benefit of all. MTEC has brought Australia’s minerals-related education back from the brink to build a world-class tertiary learning environment for the education of professionals for the Australian minerals industry. Based on this ethos, MTEC continues its innovative approach in developing the Minerals Industry National Associate Degree (MINAD) program.
Many of the issues facing tertiary education today largely mirror those faced by MTEC in 1999: a changing education landscape, driven by more market orientation; chronic under-funding in core minerals-related disciplines; and the flexible delivery of education that has since been revolutionised by onlinelearning. The opportunity then, as it is now, is to continually seek out true partnership between industry, government and academia to enhance minerals education in Australia. This vision has ensured a ‘first-principles approach’ that has more than met these challenges.
Driving the Vision – MTEC
MTEC’s pivotal first-principles approach is its collaboration model that has created closer ties between industry, government and the university sector. For instance, within the MTEC programs, Universities now share teaching personnel and resources, collaborate in research, and even share unit materials outside their program scope. And this collaborative approach has had some game-changing results. Our programs, facilitated by some 16 Australian Universities, currently produce 64% of 4-year trained geoscientists, 85% of 4-year trained mining engineers, and 100% of 4-year trained metallurgists. In a recent International Resources Journal article, MTEC Executive Director Dr Gavin Lind spoke of the First-Principles Approach. “These universities have got the ability, capacity, interest and desire to collaborate; and any student, no matter where they’re based in the country, can take up one of these courses; and the industry knows there’s a secure supply [of workers], because of the vast collective educational capability provided,” explains Lind. “We’re always looking for more universities that can deliver the skills we need.”
A Positive Vision for the Future
A productive workforce needs to be a skilled workforce. The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA), led by its higher education arm MTEC, is developing and implementing national strategies to ensure the adequate supply of skills to the industry to increase minerals industry labour productivity by: advocating public policy and institutional capacity building for improved delivery in the tertiary education sector – both the university sector and vocational education and training sector (VET) – in minerals industry related areas. This policy position of the MCA has been recognised internationally as the foundation of a “stable, competent, innovative workforce” (p.81) and promoted within a recent Washington publication, Emerging Workforce Trends in the U.S. Energy and Mining Industries: A Call To Action.
By building an uninterrupted, sustainable education and training pathway to increase workforce participation, diversity and skills, regardless of the business cycle, MTEC is delivering a world-class system of minerals education. The financial support to our partner universities has provided unencumbered funds to counteract the “relatively high costs” of minerals-related programs: some $34 million over the past decade alone. MTEC has re-connected industry with education, so that the three programs have been designed in collaboration with industry to ensure graduates are industry-ready with the right balance of theoretical, technical and soft skills. Through MTEC, industry has demonstrated a long-term skills development strategy beyond the cyclical imperatives of the present.
Yet MTEC does not rest on its laurels, and continues to devise strategies to ensure there is a consistent and longterm supply of appropriately skilled professionals entering Australia’s largest export industry. The Minerals Industry National Associate Degree (MINAD) program is one such initiative that seeks out “true partnership between industry, government and academia to reshape minerals education in Australia,” and will provide the minerals industry with efficient, appropriately skilled paraprofessional workers as part of their workforce profile. By moving beyond reactionary initiatives to counter cyclical industry requirements, the MINAD project is a natural extension to the MCA’s vision of an uninterrupted sustainable education and training pathway for workforce participation, diversity and skills.