NEWS

Russian raw materials industry is on the verge of career paradigm shift

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This June, the agreement between the Russian National Association of Mining Engineers and the British Institute of Mineral, Materials and Mining (IOM3) was signed. According to the agreement, experts of the Association were granted exclusive rights to certify specialists of extracting and processing enterprises. As a result, Russian mining engineers may apply for full membership at the British Engineering Council, one of the most prestigious professional associations in the world. In an interview to "Forpost", Vladimir Litvinenko, the President of the Association and Rector of Saint-Petersburg Mining University, explained what it means for the raw materials industry and for the industry specialists, in particular.

- What is the core of the agreement on cooperation?

- These days, our world is facing a huge amount of global challenges – to name a few, rapid population growth, climate change, exhaustion of natural resources, acceleration of technological change, and many others as well. According to the UN forecasts, the global population will reach 9 billion people by 2050. That could result in the global shortage of food and affect global energy security. To be fair, even now around a billion people in the world do not have access to electricity, and 800 million people are hungry or lack food supplies.

In order to reduce these figures and ensure sustainable development in the future, we must introduce the best available technologies – the ones which will help us improve production efficiency and reduce the negative impact on the environment. Another important task is to establish an entirely new level of engineering training. The fact that more and more advanced and complex equipment is required for exploring and extracting mineral resources consecutively leads to the fact that competency level required to operate this equipment is constantly growing. Moreover, there is not a single university in the world which could provide a graduate with a certain amount of knowledge that would last a lifetime, without any further need for education.

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Here comes another question – who should organize the further training process and, most importantly, who should assess the competency level of mining specialists? There are over 830 mining schools and universities today. Rectors of many of them have already been here, in Saint-Petersburg, on multiple occasions, whilst attending major international forums. And there were some discussions on the topic. The conclusion is that the task of the university is to fulfill the responsibilities within the framework of educational standards. The professional communities, though, should arrange through its own experts an accreditation system to determine if the person has knowledge of the threshold requirements of professional standards and, based on the assessment, award the person with a corresponding title - "Professional Engineer", "Fellow Engineer" and some others.

In connection with this, the core of the agreement is that now experts of the Russian National Association of Mining engineers, which includes mining engineers, geologists, as well as specialists from oil and gas and chemical industries, have been licensed by IOM3 to certify specialists of extracting and processing enterprises. The accreditation in accordance with IOM3 procedure will serve as a mechanism for increasing efficiency of Russian mining industry in the global marketplace. The capitalization of Russian public companies will be also affected positively through improving human resource capacity.

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Zoya Zaitseva, Regional Director, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, QS (Quacquarelli Symonds, UK-based global higher education company):  "In fact, this event, i.e. signing of the agreement between the National Association of Mining Engineers and IOM3, will affect not only Russian mining engineers but also their colleagues from all over the world. In contrast to the financial services industry, consulting or marketing, mining industry previously lacked a unified recognized system for evaluating the level of expertise. Right now, we have made an important step towards establishing a universal, globally recognized system. Regardless of the university or the country where the education was completed, each person awarded with such a title as, for instance, "Chartered engineer" by the International Competence Centre for Mining-Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO will be equally recognized as a professional in most of the countries of the world. It is very important for the development of the mining industry."

- How will it look like in practice?

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- The university graduate acquires practical skills in the field through internship lasting two to three years – two years for the Masters or the holders of a Specialist’s Degree and three years for the Bachelors. The next step is that a specific company sends that person for a short-term training course to one of the regional educational centers established on the base of the International Competence Centre for Mining-Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO.The monthly training takes place in accordance with "Professional standards" program. After completing the education, the candidate is required to take an exam organized by the commission of certified experts from the National Association of Mining Engineers. If the exam is passed, a certificate confirming the title of Professional Engineer is awarded, which may be seen as a proof of competence and reaching certain level in the profession.

Heads of enterprises, leading industry specialists and researchers may apply for the titles of "Professional Member" or "Fellow Member", which confirm the highest competency level of the holders of these titles. In order to qualify for the "Fellow Member" grade, an engineer must have no less than three years of relevant work experience. He also must have made a significant contribution or established a record of achievement in the mining-related discipline. Finally, two referees are required. Both have to be active members of the professional community in order to suggest a person for approval.

In Russia, there are twenty-three persons who applied for professional grades. Besides, thirty persons hold the "Chartered Engineer" (MIMMM Ceng) title. All of them were accredited by the IOM3. In addition to it, 23 professional development programs were accredited by specialists from the IOM3. These programs correspond with the main areas of focus of the Association – geology, oil and gas extraction and processing, industrial safety, and others as well.

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Alexander Yakovenko, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to the United Kingdom:  "Over the past two years, bilateral trade between Russia and the UK has grown by 40%, which is a huge achievement. However, the signing of these agreements is a completely new qualitative step forward in the development of relations between our countries. The most important here is that this certification will be done by the Competence Center under the auspices of UNESCO – the center which is located in Russia. Thus, Russia becomes a reference State in terms of assigning certain qualifications – and not only for the local engineers but also globally. This way, by combining the efforts of two States – or in this case two universities – we take a giant step forward in terms of the development of the global mining industry."

- Why was the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) chosen as a partner?

- Nowadays, IOM3 unites 17,000 engineers, 300 companies, 1500 educational institutions. It is the oldest and most representative association of professionals of the mining and metallurgical industry in Western Europe. One of its areas of work is the accreditation of engineers. Those who pass the certification are given recognition as highly qualified specialists, which, in turn, contributes to their career development. At this stage, one of the most important tasks of the Competence Center under the auspices of UNESCO and the National Association of Mining Engineers is to establish a similar system in our country.

This process might not be that easy, it might as well take a lot of time, but this problem has to be solved. In fact, we are not talking here only about Russia or the UK. Many people from different countries will take part in this work, employees of the Mining University and our colleagues in London included. Moreover, up to this moment representatives of the scientific and business communities of 18 states have already expressed the desire to join the project and provide expert advice.

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As a matter of fact, many countries lack an accepted system of mining standards, which results in inequality in the level of professionalism and economic slowdown. In particular, this problem is common in many African countries. Even if there is a system of professional standards in the country, those standards often differ vastly from the actual requirements in the industry or vary greatly from region to region. For these reasons, employees of multinational companies are often faced with the need for retraining and re-certification so as to meet the new requirements.

Therefore, the primary task of the International Competence Centre for Mining-Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCOis to develop a system that would serve as a channel for greater mobility of engineers. Those mining specialists who will be certified by the National Association of Mining Engineers should be confident that their titles are recognized globally, regardless of the country. IOM3, in cooperation with the Competence Center, is currently developing a common standard for mining engineering at different levels of experience and competence that is expected to be accepted widely. This standard will be applied by experts of the National Association for the accreditation procedure.

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Colin Church, Chief Executive of IOM3:  "Mining industry is one of the most important ones, and increasing the efficiency of mining will allow us to better respond to many global challenges. As an example, growth of the global population requires higher volumes of raw materials. In connection with this, we are pleased to cooperate with the Mining University in promoting professional competence in the mining engineering – a crucial activity to ensure sustainable development. Currently, we are in the process of training our Russian colleagues from St. Petersburg to do some of the assessment, and there will also be an element of the assessment in the UK as well.

- You mentioned that it is not only employees who would benefit from implementing this system but also companies through increase in capitalization. How exactly can this be achieved?

- The indicators which are currently used to value assets of public companies, such as resourcing, do not fully reflect the level of stability and sustainability of businesses – they are not sufficient for the stock market. If we want to make a full-scale assessment though, we need to be able to assess human resource capacities of public companies as well as understand who is responsible for expensive equipment – engineers accredited by the professional community or the recent graduates. Obviously, the higher competency level is expected in the first case – not in the second one.

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This information should be also made freely available to the public. Either stock exchange should share this information with stock marketsor independent auditors. As a result, investors will be able to make more informed decisions on the purchase of shares.

Robert Barnes, Global Head of Primary Markets at the London Stock Exchange:  "We believe that employee qualification definitely affects company profile and its capitalization, as well as sustainable development in the mining industry in general."

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