Mining engineers apply their ranged science and technology skill set to extracting minerals from the earth, making it a multidisciplinary role

A mining engineer ensures the safe and efficient development of mines and other surface and underground operations. The role combines an understanding of the effects of these structures on their surrounding environment, as well as technical knowledge and management skills.

Mining engineers are involved at all stages of a project. Before a new site is developed, they assess its viability and assist with planning the mine's structure.

They also manage and oversee mining production processes and are involved in the final closure and rehabilitation process.

There are opportunities in the UK in mining consultancy, minerals, tunnelling and quarrying but, due to the nature of the industry, mining engineering is an international career and the majority of opportunities are overseas.

Responsibilities

Work activities vary according to the nature of the mine or site, but typically involve:

  • assessing the commercial viability of new mining ventures
  • undertaking feasibility studies
  • modelling or designing potential mine sites
  • preparing plans for mines, for example, tunnels and shafts for underground mines
  • working with specialist software to support planning programmes
  • overseeing major construction projects and ensuring that operations run smoothly
  • monitoring activities underground
  • overseeing staff activities, either in one site section or throughout an entire mine
  • ensuring the safety of mining equipment and assessing mine equipment supplies
  • establishing extraction systems
  • overseeing the health and safety of the site, particularly in relation to issues such as ventilation
  • planning for transition from surface to underground mining operations
  • providing consultancy and advice on mining and mineral extraction projects
  • filling in disused mine shafts
  • reclaiming mine sites
  • managing monthly budgets and keeping detailed records.

Salary

  • Starting salaries vary between £21,000 and £27,000.
  • With five years' experience, this can increase to around £45,000.
  • Salaries at senior level (e.g. after 10 to 15 years in the role) range between £50,000 and £75,000.

Salaries tend to be considerably higher overseas.

Salary levels also vary between employers and sectors. More demanding work locations, such as poor weather conditions and strict rules, may offer better salaries. Generally the more remote the area the higher the allowance, with additional benefits such as housing and fly in/fly out work. Some companies provide performance-related pay schemes and additional benefits.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Hours of work tend to be long, particularly if you're based overseas. Mining engineers working overseas are likely to be on site for up to three months, followed by a period of two weeks' leave, which they can spend elsewhere.

What to expect

  • While conditions on site can be challenging, the work itself is not excessively physically demanding.
  • Although self-employment is not an option, consultancy work is possible for those with experience in the industry and a good network of contacts.
  • The majority of jobs are based overseas, particularly South America, Australia and Africa. The UK does not offer many traditional mining engineering jobs but does have openings in related areas, such as tunnelling, quarrying and construction.
  • The need to travel to gain experience and develop a career is likely to affect individuals with family commitments. Many mining engineers build up their experience overseas and then either move back to the UK or emigrate permanently.
  • You might experience feelings of isolation working in this role. However, you'll also be exposed to a variety of different cultures and communities, which can be a rewarding experience.

Qualifications

Entry is usually with a degree in one of the following subjects:

  • civil engineering
  • geology
  • mine and quarry engineering
  • minerals surveying
  • mining and mineral engineering.

A degree in mining engineering provides the most flexibility for a career in the UK and overseas.

A BEng in Mining Engineering, accredited by the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3), is offered by the Camborne School of Mines at the University of Exeter. Contact the institution directly for details of entry requirements and funding opportunities.

The course includes direct exposure to mining, in the UK or overseas. It's important to use these periods to make contacts in the industry for future employment.

If you don't have a specialised first degree but have done a course in a related subject, your chances of entering the profession may be improved if you study for a specialist postgraduate qualification in mining engineering.

Because of the international nature of this career, it is important to be strategic about your choice of course. You'll need to ensure that your mining engineering degree is recognised by your preferred country of employment.

It is possible to become a mining engineer without having a relevant degree by working in a related field and gaining experience, but there may be fewer opportunities available to you.

Different countries have different rules about how to qualify for employment as a mining engineer. In Australia for example, you must have at least a four-year undergraduate degree. Relevant work experience is highly regarded by most employers and employment may be difficult to find without it.

Skills

You'll need to show that you're skilled in:

  • working as part of a team, with the ability to manage and motivate people
  • project management
  • analytical problem-solving
  • communication and presentation
  • time management and planning, as well as the ability to prioritise your workload
  • managing your finances and budgeting
  • a good knowledge of IT and specialist software
  • a willingness to travel and spend time away from home
  • an outgoing and self-reliant nature
  • knowledge of health and safety issues related to mining.

Work experience

Relevant practical work experience is essential, although opportunities can be difficult to find. You should make the most of any contacts you make overseas on work placements during your course.

The major mining companies generally employ on an international basis, which means that there is competition for jobs from overseas-based candidates.

To keep up to date with the latest industry news and opinion read magazines such as:

Employers

The majority of core mining engineering vacancies tend to be based overseas, most commonly in Europe, South America, Australia and Africa, although there are UK-based opportunities in areas such as:

  • minerals
  • mining consultancy
  • oil and gas
  • quarrying
  • tunnelling.

Typical employers include:

  • mining companies, which require mining engineers to assess the value and productivity of potential sites, develop new mine sites and to manage operations once they are functioning
  • mining finance and consultancy companies, which employ mining engineers to cost and assess the feasibility of new mining ventures and advise on new mineral extraction projects
  • environmental consultancies, which employ mining engineers to provide information on surface and underground developments that will affect the environment, such as the reclamation of disused industrial sites
  • quarrying and extraction companies, which require mining engineers to assess and plan quarrying operations and to manage and oversee sites
  • major manufacturing and construction companies, which employ mining engineers to manage operations.

Look for job vacancies at:

Vacancies in mining, tunnelling and quarrying are provided through specialist recruitment agencies, such as:

Find contacts for speculative UK applications by using the Directory of Mines and Quarries, produced by the British Geological Survey (BGS).

Professional development

New mining engineers are likely to be trained in a variety of areas. At the beginning of your career, you'll need to adapt quickly to working on site and learn new skills from more experienced colleagues.

Depending on the nature and type of mine in which you are employed, you'll also have to learn the appropriate practical skills.

The varied nature of the industry means that you'll need to update your skills and knowledge regularly throughout your career.

A range of continuing professional development (CPD) and networking opportunities are provided through membership of IOM3. Fellows and Professional Members of IOM3 can also qualify for registration with the Engineering Council as chartered engineers (CEng).

To gain CEng status, you'll need to submit a written report and satisfy an assessment panel that you have the skills, specialist knowledge and competence to practise as an engineer.

Employers might encourage further study at postgraduate level. Courses are available to professionals already working in the field as well as graduates with a related degree, such as engineering or geology, in areas such as mining engineering, mining geology and applied geotechnics.

Career prospects

Within the more traditional mining engineer role, career development tends to take the following route (with promotion approximately every two to three years):

  • junior mining engineer
  • mine planning engineer
  • senior mining engineer
  • mine supervisor
  • resident manager.

Generally, the larger mining companies tend to provide the most well-structured career development programmes and offer more opportunities for promotion.

Gaining CEng status through the Engineering Council can help career progression. Chartership also provides a structured continuing professional development (CPD) programme and links with useful industry contacts.

Career development varies widely within the field as a whole. Mining engineers who stay in the UK may work in office-based roles, working for international mining companies. These types of opportunities can lead to additional managerial and strategic responsibilities.

Others may progress into working in mining finance or working on a consultancy basis for mining companies. Qualified mining engineers also progress into roles within quarry management, IT and construction.