The Department of Mining Engineering at the University of Pretoria has revealed that approximately 95% of its 2017 and 2018 graduates are currently employed in various fields of the minerals sector, as well as at consultancies and financial institutions.
Head of the Department Professor Ronny Webber-Youngman said: “The department is aware of the challenges our graduates face in the transition from being students to managers and leaders – especially so in a complex and rapidly changing world of cyber technology, Internet of Things and Industry 4.0.”
Students who enter the workplace often lack sufficient levels of self-awareness, interpersonal communication skills and the ability to work in multi-disciplinary settings and diverse groups spanning over many generations. In this vein, the department set up a Mining Engineering Leadership Academy (MELA) 10 years ago to groom students for the workplace. The initiative was started through funding from Sasol Mining for the Sasol Chair in Mine Health and Safety and Environment, and was initially referred to as the Sasol Engineering Leadership Academy. It incorporated students from all departments in the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment, and Information Technology. When the Sasol Chair concluded its activities, it was decided to keep the academy, with the name MELA.
Final-year students attend the MELA programme at the start of each year and are divided into teams for their Mine Design course. The MELA programme is structured to help students better prepare for their careers by establishing an awareness of the stewardship of being a Tukkie and a future mining engineering leader.
“The teams’ compositions are based on personality testing obtained from their Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance profiles as well as Myers-Briggs profiles which, in conjunction with academic performance, commodity and biographic profiles determine team compositions to be as diverse as possible,” explained Prof Webber-Youngman.
MELA concludes in July with a Leadership Week where students are introduced to the 4.0D Leadership Model for Industry 4.0, which was developed by Dr Johann Uys, a senior lecturer in the department.
“In the context of teamwork during the mine design programme, MELA content focuses on team working, emotional intelligence and conflict management. MELA concludes with four-member teams embarking on an experiential and action learning teambuilding day to gain first-hand exposure to teamwork challenges similar to the workplace. This year the students attended the day in a bush setting east of Pretoria,” said Prof Webber-Youngman. They were accompanied by facilitators and MELA staff.
The final phase of the leadership programme incorporates contemporary topics relevant for mine design with specific reference to mine closure designs as well as community awareness and responsibility. Four major focus areas in mine design with regard to communities are highlighted: potential resettlement strategies; current towns and settlement extension plans; balance between locals’ upskilling and migrant labour imports; and ramping communities up for viable post-mining activity.
Guest speakers during this year’s Leadership Week included Dr George Maluleke from Kumba Iron Ore who addressed students on the Dingleton resettlement project; while Jan Nel from Shangoni lectured students on mine closure as well as post-mining activities and rehabilitation of mining sites.
Women in mining once again featured prominently during Leadership Week, with alumna Tarusha Moonsamy giving a global outlook on mining as her presentation took the students on a tour of all her work sites in the United States and Australia. She told students: “Don’t be in a rush, stop to smell the roses, create your balance … your career is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Looking back on her career, she said: “I recall many highs and many lows. Each occurrence happened to me for a reason and there was a learning that I took away which supported my growth. The one constant across the highs and lows is that there was a group of people who always supported me. Family and mentors. Invest time in nurturing your mentor relationships.”
Prof Webber-Youngman said good language skills were essential for students to succeed in their studies and careers as they are required to attend classes, read articles and write reports in English. “Therefore, an inadequate grasp of the English language will lead to poor student results no matter how otherwise gifted a student is.”
Consequently, over the past five years the department has implemented an English language intervention programme. “This has empowered students to produce well-written dissertations and presentations, while also giving them a skill that will be of immense value to them throughout their professional lives,” said Prof Webber-Youngman.
Thanks to skills learnt on the programme, students Henko Maritz and Yugen Govender’s project presentations were named the top two at the annual Southern African Institute for Mining and Metallurgy in October 2018. This annual colloquium is attended by all the mining schools in Southern Africa.
UP is "educating and leading mining engineers to become imagineers", Prof Webber-Youngman said.