Mining Industry Careers

South Africa’s mineral reserves are unequalled in the Western world. The variety and quantity of its mineral products, of which many are strategically important, and the size of the mineral industry’s research programme, make South Africa one of the greatest mining countries in the world.

South Africa is self-sufficient regarding most of the minerals and it is in possession of rich reserves of many minerals which are scarce in other parts of the world. It has the largest gold deposits in the world with impressive reserves of uranium, antimony, asbestos, vermiculite, fluorospar and high-grade iron ore. Mining requires a network of shafts and tunnels which have to be designed according to geological information obtained from drilling. Shafts have to be designed to handle the required volume of air to produce an environment that is acceptable by world standards and to handle the total tonnage of mined minerals, materials and men. Rock pressure, the circulation of fresh air, the cooling down of warm working places, the draining and pumping of water and cementation are factors that have to be borne in mind in order to prevent the invasion and infiltration of water.

Mining Engineers: Specialised training is necessary for candidates intending to qualify as mining engineers. With the necessary scientific background, the engineer can adapt to the continual technological changes in the mining industry. The mining engineer is involved in designing the best mining method for any specific ore-body. He makes extensive use of the latest technology in the computer field to design the safest and most economical mining method. The mining engineer is responsible for the production process. He plans and controls the production process to ensure a continuous feed of minerals to the beneficiation plant.

Electrical and Mechanical Engineering: Mining is an industry which relies heavily on the skill of electrical and mechanical engineers. A large percentage of the employees on a mine are concerned with the design, construction and maintenance of machinery and equipment.

Both the electrical and mechanical engineering graduates do two years’ training as junior engineers, and then they can prepare for the examinations for the Government Certificate of Competency.

Non-graduates, as well as electricians and fitters, can also write the examination in order to obtain the Government Certificate of Competency, by way of the student official course. Matriculants with university entrance passes in Mathematics and Physical Sciences can become electrical and mechanical engineers through a student official course. Student officials are eligible to be chosen for bursaries for full-time study in mechanical and electrical engineering at a university or university of technology. Student officials join university graduates as junior engineers in a two-year course to prepare for the Government Certificate of Competency.

Metallurgy: The art of extracting metal from ore is an essential part of mining. Extraction technology may determine whether a mineral deposit is worth mining or not. The metallurgist uses physical and chemical means to free a few grams of precious metal from a ton of ore. He refines the metal and ultimately blends it with other metals to meet the alloy requirements of modern industry.

Imported, as well as locally developed metallurgical processes are applied in the complicated operations, which culminate in the refinement of many metals encountered in South African platinum ore. The end
products are high-grade platinum, iridium, rhodium, ruthenium, nickel, copper, gold and silver.

The graduate who seeks a career in mining metallurgy begins in the reduction-complex of the mine. He is posted to the different sections of the works to study every operation in detail. In this way he prepares himself for supervisory and managerial positions. A metallurgical engineer can proceed to consulting metallurgical engineering in the head office of the mining group he is working in.

Matriculants with Mathematics and Physical Sciences can become metallurgists after training in the mining industry. They do a four-year diploma, which entails full-time classes for four semesters and practical work for four semesters in reduction-plants. Industrious student officials can acquire bursaries to enable them to obtain a university degree or university of technology diploma in Metallurgy through full-time study.

Other student officials have ample scope for advancement to leading positions with their diplomas.

Geologists: Most minerals occur in specific settings and it is the task of the geologist to find the deposits. The geologist draws conclusions from cores obtained from great depths by means of drilling. He uses sensitive instruments and applies principles such as electromagnetism, shock waves and radioactivity to detect the presence of certain minerals. He may even make use himself of observations made by sensory devices scanning the earth from an orbiting satellite.

Bursaries and scholarships are awarded to promising matriculants for the BScHons degree in Geology. After graduation, qualified geologists are employed as:

Exploration geologists: those engaged in the search and evaluations of new ore-deposits

Mining geologists - those involved in the daily duties of geologists in geological departments on the mines.

Geological Assistants: Matriculants are in demand to assist geologists as geological technicians. The technician joins the prospecting team as the right-hand man of the geologist, assisting him in every way to free him for his more specialised tasks.

Promising candidates are given the opportunity to study N.H.Dip: Economical Geology at a university of technology. Bursaries are awarded for university of technology studies.

Mine Surveying: The chief surveyor is responsible for the surveying of all excavations, the direction and location of tunnels, underground excavations, and permanent installations on a mine. He updates plans and section drawings according to the regulations published in terms of the Minerals Act and Regulations. He is also responsible for the sampling department, ore assessment, ore quality control and development.

The initial duty of the surveyor is to measure the quantity of ore which is excavated by the mine contractors. These contractors are paid accordingly and therefore the work is demanding and has to be done accurately.

Candidates with a National Senior Certificate and acceptable symbols for Mathematics and Physical Sciences write an aptitude test to determine their suitability for university of technology training. Bursaries are awarded for university of technology studies. University of technology training for the advanced diploma in Mine Surveying is a necessary preparation for the Government Certificate of Competency.

Surveying Drawings: The survey drawings office, under the supervision of the chief draughtsman, is responsible for the preparation and composition of all the plans required by the Minerals Act and Regulations. Insight into co-ordinated Geometry and basic Trigonometry, accuracy and neatness are required for this career.
Sampling: The duty of the sampler is to take ore samples for assaying in order to ascertain the mineral content. All measurements concerning the channel-width and the mineral content of ore-bodies are recorded and correlated by the sampler, in order to record all the reef values. The sampling department itself offers a rewarding and satisfactory career, in which one can proceed to chief sampler.

The training course for samplers is very much the same as the one followed by surveyors. Employers make ample provision for candidates willing to improve their qualifications through in-house studying in order to obtain official qualifications. Matriculants are preferred, but persons with lower qualifications are also accepted for the course.

Assaying: Assaying is the process whereby ore samples are used to determine the value of ore-deposits. The assayer is responsible for the laboratory analysis of ore samples to ascertain their mineral content. Applicants must be in possession of a National Senior Certificate with Mathematics and Physical Sciences. The N.H.Dip: Assaying and Analytical Science is offered at the University of Technology Witwatersrand. It is a three-year course with three semesters theoretical training at the university of technology and three semesters in-service training at a mine. Through study, an applicant obtains an assayer’s Certificate of Competency and advances in his department, until he becomes the chief surveyor.

Ventilation: The ventilation department advises the mine managers concerning vital aspects, such as airflow, heat, humidity and dust control. Ventilation in a deep mine involves driving immense volumes of air through a network of shafts and tunnels in order to establish a healthy working environment.

As mining activities are carried out on deeper levels, the importance of specialised services of the ventilation department increases. With the mines working at increasing depths and the hazards of increased rock temperature and the resultant heat increase in the working place underground, the responsibility of the ventilation officer becomes critical. The ventilation officer has to devise a plan to ensure a healthy working environment.

Personnel in the ventilation department are also responsible for determining:
  • dust, noxious and flammable gases, temperature, humidity, noise and illumination
  • the mine’s ventilation air: the quality, distribution and usage thereof
  • the mine’s water reserve: quality, distribution and usage
Matriculants with an aptitude for Mathematics and Physical Sciences should, after one or two years’ work and study, be able to obtain an Elementary Ventilation Certificate. More study will equip him for an Advanced Ventilation Certificate and promotion to the position of Sectional Ventilation Officer. After a period of time, and with the Government Certificate of Competency he can become a ventilation engineer in charge of a department.

Mine Planning: The mine planning division is responsible for all short, medium and long-term planning of the mine’s mining operations. The planning official draws up basic plans for excavations and layouts and once they have been approved, he then does detailed planning and scheduling of activities. He is further involved in measuring progress.

Candidates applying for positions in the planning division are preferably recruited from the production side and the possession of a Mine Overseer’s or Mine Manager’ certificate would be a recommendation.

Winding Engine Drivers: Hundreds of thousands of men are hoisted in and out of mines daily. Countless tons of rock, materials and machinery travel the same way. The key man in this operation is the winding engine driver. He is at the controls of the powerful machine which winds and unwinds the heavy hoisting cables. A code of bell signals is his means of communication with a trained operator, who mans the conveyances.

The Chamber of Mines initiated a training programme in conjunction with the mining industry, whereby eligible candidates are given the opportunity to receive training and obtain experience, in order to qualify for the Winding Engine-Drivers Certificate of Competency.

A candidate for training must be between 18 and 40 years of age, but the selection committee for this programme can increase the age to 45 years in special cases. The candidates must be in possession of a Grade 10 Certificate. The possession of a certificate of fitness (Red Ticket) is a prerequisite.

Student Officials: Matriculants can be employed in a variety of engineering courses as student officials, after which structured training programmes can be undertaken. During this time, student officials work on a mine for six months as part of their initial practical training. When this is completed student officials can choose one of the routes described below, according to their abilities:

Promising students, whose performance and abilities indicate that they are capable of completing the university course in Mining, Metallurgical, Electrical or Mechanical Engineering, can apply for bursaries for full-time study.

If a student official prefers to follow the university of technology route, he can take the N.Dip. course. Studies are spread over four semesters at a university of technology and four semesters on a mine, gaining practical experience.

Matriculants between the ages of 18 and 24 years, who enter the mining industry as student officials are the industry’s main source of senior officials and managers. Although most of their training is practical, those intending to make rapid progress need a substantial amount of theoretical knowledge. Those who have a practical record and are not interested in intensive studies, can enrol in the three-year practical mining course in order to become a shift boss.

Student Miners: Candidates with a Grade 10 Certificate are given preference for admission to the practical course, presented by the different mining houses. The minimum age is 18 years. The student miners are trained to plan and organise, lead and control men and to take on the responsibilities expected of them. A student miner can qualify as a miner in 18 months. A miner, who is prepared to study to improve his qualifications, can become a shift boss and on obtaining the relevant certificates of competency, can be promoted to mine overseer or to a more senior position.

Learnerships: The mining industry trains learners in trades such as fitting and turning, electrical, plating, rigging, diesel mechanics and others. Learners must have a Grade 10 Certificate and a medical certificate of fitness (Red Ticket) is a prerequisite. Learner training centres on the mines are equipped with modern training equipment.

The duration of the learnership depends on the trade chosen, the standard of education and the learner’s ability to pass trade tests, with the aid of classes at Colleges for FET. A learner must have an N2 in order to complete a four-year learnership in two years, or a three-year learnership in one and a half years.

Bursaries: The different mining houses have bursaries and scholarships available for university and university of technology study. The emphasis is on the professions which are most essential to the industry, such as mining, engineering in the mechanical, electrical and metallurgical fields, as well as surveying and geology.

Manpower Management / Personnel Training: At the mines, training and industrial relations reside under the personnel function. The duties of this department include the maintenance of present employment practices, as well as dismissal procedures, recruitment, advertising and career planning for employees. Manpower planning is a very important part of the process in order to determine the personnel strength and labour needs of departments. Statistics on absence and labour turnover and information on productivity must be analysed in order to take remedial action. Job descriptions, which form part of the job evaluation system, must often be reviewed. Performance reviews of employees are done annually to determine further training needs.

The administration of mine housing for the labour force is the responsibility of the personnel department and involves the allocation of houses and the arrangements concerning maintenance. Welfare and morale are always important and it is necessary to organise sports and social functions to keep up the good morale. Personnel officers sometimes have to advise people on problems resulting from work situations, accidents and social and domestic dissatisfaction. The personnel function normally offers an exciting and satisfactory career.

Training Departments: The training function involves development, presentation and revision of a wide range of training courses for all employees on the mine. Lectures are presented to all employees of the mines to equip them to perform at their peak level of competence in their respective fields. They present all courses to the employees, monitor their progress and do follow-up visits to identify further training needs. Modern training techniques and equipment are used to facilitate learning.

Hostel Management: The appropriate policy must be followed in order to deal with labour disputes, grievances and disciplinary hearings. Correspondence and records of each employee have to be accurate and this requires well-trained and organised personnel. Food has to be ordered and provided daily on a 24-hour basis for thousands of employees. Hygiene is of the utmost importance and is not only applicable to the kitchen, but also to the rooms, laundry works, and recreational area.

Coordination and organisation are necessary to entertain a large number of people in their leisure time. The organising of sports and tribal dance occasions involves a lot of training. The liquor outlets are opened daily and the ordering of a wide range of liquor requires good organisation. Stocktaking, adherence to the Liquor Act and the maintenance of order in the pubs are important.

Matriculants as well as graduates are considered for employment, although non-graduates are expected to qualify themselves further. The mining industry is interested in university training, such as a BSocSc or a BCom degree, preferably with major subjects in Psychology or Industrial Sociology.

Mine Hospitals: Mine financing companies manage several well-equipped hospitals for mineworkers. Not only do mine hospitals treat ill and injured patients, but since they also aim to promote general public health, a high a standard of training is required for their medical personnel. Some mining houses have nursing colleges, where matriculants with subjects acceptable to the Nursing Council, can be trained over four years to become registered nurses.

Candidates who have successfully completed two or three years’ university training in medicine are considered for bursaries. There are also several job opportunities for graduates, such as pharmacists, radiographers and physiotherapists. Health inspectors, with a three-year diploma in Public Health, are also employed.

Working Conditions

Working conditions differ depending on the type of work done. Artisans work both underground and on the surface, whereas miners work only underground. Their type of work, for example, ore-removal, stoping and developing, determines the working conditions. Managers, mine overseers, shift bosses, surveyors, samplers, ventilation officers, student officials and artisans work partly underground and partly in the office. Administration personnel work only on the surface. Salaries and wages compare favourably with those of other industries.

Mining employees usually live close to their working places, in planned towns which have schools, shopping centres, cinemas and other places of entertainment and recreation.

Further Information

Contact the employers mentioned for more information.

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