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.
The Australian Institute of Geoscientists said those retiring were taking with them skillsets and knowledge potentially not being replaced by newly introduced university courses.
Compounding the brain drain problem is a move by some universities towards more general earth science courses not underpinned by the cornerstones of geological qualifications – mineralogy, petrology, structural geology and tectonics.
The AIG warned that less than 10 per cent of Australia’s geoscientists were in the first 10 years of their careers, and with the profession’s retirement rates set to explode, the country’s resources sector faced 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,” AIG 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.
“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.”
The AIG recently surveyed its members to examine the extent to which Australia was self-sufficient in geoscience education and the extent to which opportunities exist for overseas-trained geoscientists.
“The survey data revealed that while a high proportion of Australian geoscientists received their university education in Australia, geoscientists are required to be mobile in order to pursue their profession,” Mr Waltho said.
“The question now emerging therefore, with the move towards more generalised earth science university courses, is the suitability of education provided by these studies.
“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.”