Entering my penultimate year of study as a Mining Engineer/Commerce undergraduate student, I have experienced firsthand the industry downturn since I commenced my studies in 2011.
Back then, vacation work and graduate positions were plentiful, graduates would receive large sign-up bonuses and students would have the choice of multiple offers, as companies outbid each other to secure the finite pool of graduates. How times have changed!
The current industrial climate has forced students to think and act differently when attempting to secure vacation work and graduate positions. Many students planned to enter the industry when securing a job was as easy as shooting off a few online applications.
However, they have quickly realised times have changed and that won’t suffice today. Networking with industry has become more vital than ever for students. If it were not for events like AusIMM technical talks, AusIMM Student Meets Industry nights and mining conferences/lunches, I would not have made the networking connections which ultimately led me to securing a vacation position this recent summer. The AusIMM and other professional groups have been instrumental in encouraging students to interact with industry by supporting student chapters and encouraging students to attend conferences by providing free attendance. Throughout my time at university I have attended numerous events and volunteered my time helping at conferences, and have reaped the rewards, gaining a part time mining position through contacts met at these events.
The role of universities has also changed with the industry downturn. Previously, universities played a minimal role in assisting students gain industrial experience and graduate positons. However, as students have struggled in recent years to graduate due to a lack of mandatory industrial training, universities have stepped up to the task and have acted as a bridge between students and companies. The University of New South Wales has reached out to local mines and encouraged them to take students for vacation placement. It was through the university that I secured my first mining engineering vacation role within Central West NSW, which allowed me to get my foot in the door and has led to other placements.
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Whilst numerous companies, both large and small, have done their part by continually hosting students over summer vacations, others have shied away from their obligations in supporting the future leaders of industry. The companies that have embraced vacation students have enjoyed the benefits of gaining a highly motivated ‘student’ workforce willing to complete any role at a mine site, whilst at the same time being relatively low-cost. This has meant that vacation students have filled in for operators or technicians who choose to take holidays over the Christmas/New Year period, benefitting both the company (due to lower labour costs), whilst also giving students the opportunity to gain practical experience necessary for their degree and professional development. This situation was the case for me over the most recent summer with a role within a Western Australian mine, where I filled in for a truck operator on holidays during a swing and in return my contract was extended allowing me to complete additional operational roles.
A common trend amongst many of my university colleagues is to extend their studies, whether that be upskilling and embarking on double degree programs or reducing university workloads in order to push back graduation dates in the hope that industry bounces back and the job market improves.
Looking into the future, although today it is difficult to secure a graduate position with the current climate, the employment situation is cyclical, and will recover. By persevering in this downturn, undergraduates will be better off in the future, having already endured the worst.