Australia’s future mineral exploration and mining growth faces a brain drain over the next 10 years as up to a third of the country’s geoscientists face retirement – taking with them skillsets and knowledge potentially not being replaced by newly introduced university courses.

AIGThe warning was issued by the Australian Institute of Geoscientists (AIG).

Compounding the brain drain problem is a move by some universities toward more general Earth science courses not underpinned by the cornerstones of geological qualifications – mineralogy, petrology, structural geology and tectonics.

The AIG warns that less than 10% of Australia’s geoscientists are in the first 10 years of their careers, and with the profession’s retirement rates set to explode, the country’s resources sector faces an alarming deficit of geoscience skills.  

“The profession faces very real challenges of attracting talented students in sufficient numbers to maintain and build a longer-term resource of well trained, highly skilled geoscience professionals,” Institute President Andrew Waltho said.

“Geological knowledge is central to this. Rather than a simple collection of faces, facts and figures, geology studies need to instil an understanding of the complex systems that are continually interacting to shape our planet and its environment, and the understanding needed to foster sustainable use of the Earth’s resources,” Waltho said.

“Most students today receive their first exposure to geology at university. Students who entered university to pursue studies in another area of science become aware of the exciting and challenging nature of Earth systems and how geology integrates aspects of chemistry, physics and other sciences to develop this understanding.

“However, a number of Australian universities are moving away from offering geology courses, favouring instead broader Earth science programs that exclude the specialised subjects that allow graduates to observe and interpret features that are the product of some of the most significant processes shaping our planet.”

Waltho noted that a number of other universities are committed to maintaining geology programs.  

“This has the potential to create in Australia, a two-tiered base of Earth science graduates, potentially creating a need for competence assessments and broader pathways to attaining professional recognition in Australia,” he said.

“Canada has already gone down this path, successfully, to set out the knowledge required of geoscientists to secure professional registration required to practice as a professional geoscientist in that country,” Waltho said.
The Institute has recently surveyed its members to examine the extent to which Australia is self-sufficient in geoscience education and the extent to which opportunities exist for overseas trained geoscientists.

“The question now emerging therefore, with the move towards more generalised Earth science university courses, is the suitability of education provided by these studies,” Waltho said. “It will, over the next 12 months or so, force universities and the industry to address any knowledge gaps to ensure competencies valued by employers in different geoscience sectors, can be maintained.”

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