The Human Face of Economic Geology: Education, Careers, and Innovation
Paul J. Bartos, Maeve A. Boland, Leigh W. Freeman, 2005. "The Human Face of Economic Geology: Education, Careers, and Innovation", Wealth Creation in the Minerals Industry: Integrating Science, Business, and Education, Michael D. Doggett, John R. Parry
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On this 100th anniversary of the journal Economic Geology, we focus on the economic geologists themselves; specifically, how to maximize and fully realize their human and commercial potential, both on an individual and corporate scale, in the context of a profession undergoing significant change.
All geologists, regardless of career position, have competencies to greater or lesser degrees in three main areas: technical, business, and social. Where the industry overwhelmingly falls short is with respect to social competencies; the mining industry appears out of step with society at large and needs to realign itself, or at least make its message better heard and understood. This challenge underlies many of the sustainability and social issues that are currently the focus of much industry attention.
With respect to education, minerals programs worldwide are shrinking; there will clearly be a diminished supply of potential future explorationists. The social contract between universities and the mining industry, whereby society, through subsidy with tax dollars, provided de facto job training by the universities in order to enjoy the benefits of mining, has been broken. Industry will need to incur significantly more of the costs and provide significantly more funds and training in order to obtain the graduates it needs.
Extensive career data suggest that a typical career in exploration geology involves three basic tracks: technical, general management, and executive. The separation of the technical and management-executive tracks occurs at approximately year 10 of an individual’s career; separation of the executive from the management track occurs at approximately year 15. The difference between the three tracks lies mainly in the acquisition, development, and recognition of social competencies, in addition to some business competencies. An individual’s position on these tracks is relatively fixed unless significant new competencies can be acquired, utilized, and recognized. In addition, the mining industry is extremely cyclic, generally due to slumps in commodity prices; practitioners within it are periodically subject to severe change and are buffeted by the disruptive winds of job loss, relocations, family issues and/or lifestyle choices, all in the context of varying degrees of opportunity. It is no longer the exception, but now the norm, that industry explorationists will undergo periods of disruption, including sector shifts, layoffs, retraining, and certainly increased stress and uncertainty. This has implications for the supply of future practitioners and their expectations.
Attempts to develop a metric to categorize and measure social competency skills led to a classification and analysis system of underlying personality types, similar to that initially proposed by Carl Jung. Specially, a modified Myers-Briggs test was used here. Results from these tests show that people joining the minerals industry do not reflect the full range of personality types present in the general population. Further, the personality traits of senior minerals personnel increasingly diverge from the overall population; there is a kind of distillation process, whereby industry executives are increasingly thinking as opposed to feeling, extroverted as opposed to introverted. The net result is that the cohort comprising industry’s management and executive class comprises a personality type distinctly different from that of society at large; this gap is suspected to be a major reason for the disconnect between the mining industry and society. Simply put, the way industry approaches, views, and communicates about issues is very different from the way society at large thinks and communicates about the same issues. Education and training in social competencies, perhaps similar in aspect to the leadership training currently practiced by the military, may be one approach to bridging this gap. There is a distinct correlation between certain personality types and position on the corporate ladder within the mining industry. As the emphasis on multidisciplinary and multipersonality teams in exploration increases, individuals with the social competencies to lead these teams will thrive. Breakthrough innovations are increasingly seen as the application of technologies or processes developed in other industries to problems facing the mining industry. Individuals and companies that can appreciate and implement concepts from other disciplines will generate the new revolutionary technologies, and they and their companies will profit accordingly.
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Global political and economic developments shape both the demand for minerals and primary metals and their supply. Overall, demand has moved broadly in step with economic activity over the past 30 years. Notwithstanding the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries, demand grew more rapidly in the second half of the period than the first. The performance of individual products within this general trend largely reflects the specific nature of their main end uses. The geographic center of demand has shifted away from the mature industrial economies of North America, Western Europe, and Japan toward the newly industrializing countries of the Pacific Rim, China, and India. Mine production rose with demand, but not always in precise step. New capacity was required not just to meet demand, even where that was static, but also to offset the continuing effects of ore depletion. There were also changes in the location of production in response to geopolitical forces, the depletion of ore reserves, and the changing economics of extraction and processing. The number of mines contracted, especially during the 1990s, and the scale of mining operations was increased in order to achieve the requisite cost savings. Prices fluctuated in response to changing balances between supply and demand, trending downward from the early 1970s until the early 2000s. Most products witnessed at least one sharp price spike during the period, usually with continuing repercussions. Prices picked up from 2003, but generally not back to their earlier peak in real terms. Profitability varied according to the products concerned. In many years the average rates of return on capital employed have been insufficient to cover the risks involved.