It may shock you to know that mining engineers don’t just spend their entire time rescuing groups of Chilean miners who have been trapped deep underground for ages. This happens very rarely!
Instead, mining engineers use their technical knowledge and project management skills to make sure mining operations are carried out in a safe, efficient and cost-effective manner.
Mining engineers play an important role throughout the entire lifecycle of a mining project. Before any digging takes place, they conduct feasibility studies and environmental assessments, weighing up the commercial advantages and evaluating any issues relating to sustainability.
Once this process is complete, mining engineers manage all of the technical planning activities, using complex computer software to model mine sites, and planning everything which is vital to the construction of a mine.
Mining engineers then oversee the construction process and manage the technical aspects of production once the pit is open for business.
Eventually, once a mine has been exhausted of its resources, or acceptable safety levels have been compromised, a mining engineer will be in charge of closing the mine and filling in the mine shafts.
As a mining engineer, you may also be responsible for designing, developing and maintaining mining equipment, such as ventilation and extraction systems.
Salary & benefits
As an entry-level mining engineer, your salary is likely to range between £21,000 and £27,000 per annum. However, with a few years’ experience, this can increase to around £46,000 a year.
Senior mining engineers with project management responsibilities can earn up to £70,000 and beyond.
There is a distinct lack of job opportunities in the UK for mining engineers. Indeed, most people work abroad for large organisations such as Rio Tinto and Ferrex. Many of the mining projects which require the services of mining engineers are located in Australia, the USA, Africa and South America.
Consequently, if you’re based in the UK, you may be required to go abroad for extended periods of time (sometimes up to three months). When you are working on-site, your working hours will be pretty intense. One thing’s for sure: this isn’t a nine-to-five job.
Completing an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in a relevant subject, such as civil engineering, geology, minerals engineering or geophysics, is essential if you want to break into the competitive world of mining engineering.
If you don’t do a relevant undergraduate degree, you can still enter this line of work by completing a postgraduate qualification.
If you plan to work abroad as a mining engineer, it’s a good idea to contact UK NARIC to make sure your degree course is recognised abroad.
Training & progression
As a junior mining engineer, you will be trained ‘on-the-job’ under the supervision of an experienced engineer. You may also be required to attend internal training courses to develop your technical, practical and administrative skills. Larger mining companies, such as Rio Tinto, offer graduate programmes with a structured approach to training and career progression.
Some companies may even sponsor you to complete relevant postgraduate qualifications and attain chartered engineer status, which can be vital for career progression.
From entry level, where you will work as a junior/trainee mining engineer, you will gradually climb up the career ladder to become a senior mining engineer or mine supervisor. At senior level, your efforts will focus more on planning and management, rather than hands-on technical duties.
Eventually, some experienced professionals decide to explore freelance opportunities and work as a consultant on projects for different mining companies. Other people decide to move into other related professions, such as quarry management.