As the global energy system transitions to a low-carbon future, demand for mineral resources has never been greater. Technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, and electric cars require minerals such as copper, silver, lithium, cobalt, nickel, and rare earth elements in increasing quantities, creating rapidly growing markets to fuel this development on a global scale.
Organizations such as the World Bank Group and International Energy Agency have identified risks to this planned transition to clean energy, and top among them is a shortage in critical minerals. Left unaddressed, these shortages can make a clean energy future slower to achieve and more costly and create disruptions and volatility in global markets and supply chains.
But another critical challenge must be overcome on the path to a greener future: the global shortage of mining talent. While the demand for mineral resources – and the workforce to extract them – is increasing, fewer students are choosing to enter this field. The impact is being felt worldwide, with 71% of mining leaders reporting in 2022 that the talent shortage is keeping them from meeting production targets and strategic objectives, according to the McKinsey Survey of Mining Senior Leaders and Executives.
At the University of Arizona, we are meeting this challenge head-on. The transdisciplinary School of Mining & Mineral Resources was created to fill the workforce gap with emerging talent, to revolutionize the way mining is being taught, and to deliver holistic solutions for industry through research that combines disciplines from across campus. The school formally brings together multiple programs, centers and facilities around a shared vision of advancing sustainable mining and mineral exploration. This unique “innovation ecosystem” can be found nowhere else in the world.
Anchored by our top-ranked programs in mining engineering and economic geology, we support the advancement of mining by investing in research and development across the entire mining life cycle. Through facilities like our Tailings Center and Center for Environmentally Sustainable Mining, we work with industry to improve operational processes and reduce the environmental impacts of mining. The Lowell Institute of Mineral Resources and the Geotechnical Center of Excellence engage industry to innovate and fill knowledge gaps for professionals working in the field.
Our Centers for Mining Safety and Superfund Research advance the most pressing issues related to improving mine safety and enhancing health and environmental outcomes. Through these and other projects, students contribute to solving real-world problems and develop the kinds of skills that no ordinary education can deliver.
One of the ways we’re addressing the talent shortage is by increasing the aperture of who studies mining. Research done by the University of Arizona shows that most students are aware of mining and its economic importance, however, they don’t know about the critical role of mining in securing our future. Through community outreach programs beginning in elementary education, the School of Mining & Mineral Resources is helping spread awareness of the importance of sustainable mining practices.
Through virtual and in-classroom presentations, students engage in hands-on activities illustrating mine design, mineral extraction, and mine site reclamation. Modern mines are technologically advanced, driven by robotics and AI, requiring cross-functional skills across a wide range of disciplines that can match any interest. By outlining the diverse array of educational opportunities and career pathways that mining presents, the school is helping young people envision a future in mining by seeing themselves in those careers.
The School of Mining & Mineral Resources is breaking down educational silos and meeting the call to modernize curriculum by working with industry partners to develop the skills needed in the workforce of the future, and we’re doing it today. Industry has asked us to deliver talent with knowledge of environmental and social issues, with better communication skills, and with more hands-on experience and business savvy. And we are doing just that by updating existing courses, developing new offerings, and leveraging the unique San Xavier Mining Laboratory.
For the multitude of mining industry careers that are not based in engineering or science, the School of Mining & Mineral Resources offers a minor degree in Sustainable Mineral Resources so that accountants, supply chain specialists, human resources professionals, and others can be familiar with mining topics before their first day on the job. We are also delivering professional development and graduate-level courses for existing professionals in topics like Ore Deposits Mapping, Slope Performance Monitoring, and Integrated Mine Planning. For those seeking a Master’s in Legal Studies degree from the College of Law, the Mining Law and Policy Concentration offers over 15 mining-specific courses.
In just the first 12 months of its existence, the School of Mining & Mineral Resources has engaged more than 50 faculty, researchers, students and staff on more than 25 research projects across 25 departments. These early-stage research projects include eco-friendly dust suppression compounds, acid mist suppressants for worker safety, carbon sequestration using mine tailings, and other very promising projects. Researchers even created an app for hazard recognition in underground mines!
By focusing on the challenges that the mining industry is facing today, the School of Mining & Mineral Resources is proving itself to be a high-value, long-term partner, helping to secure sustainable mineral resources for generations to come. To learn more about how we are reimagining mining and minerals education visit mining.arizona.edu and explore the School and the University’s many programs.
Mark Barton is Director of the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources; Misael Cabrera is Director of the School of Mining & Mineral Resources, Carmie Garzione is Dean of the College of Science, David Hahn, is Dean of the College of Engineering and Kray Luxbacher, Department Head for Mining and Geological Engineering at the University of Arizona.