Who will Build the Green Economy? A Talent Pipeline for Critical Minerals
Governments have a key role to play in encouraging good stewardship of resources by publicly recognising responsible mining as part of the solution to the Energy Transition. Study of the Earth is essential to reconnect society with where materials come from, how they should be extracted, and what can be done to minimise our negative impact on the planet. Nations and societies need to encourage young people to choose career pathways in STEM subjects, such as geoscience, metallurgy and engineering, in order to develop future innovators to fight climate change, .
Currently, the UK Government is preparing its 2022 Critical Minerals Strategy. The Critical Minerals Association (CMA) expects the strategy to include an urgent and realistic plan of action for how the UK can secure a responsible supply chain of critical minerals to meet its policy requirements, notably those outlined in its Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, Net Zero Strategy, and Integrated Review.
Following the publication of its flagship Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) paper, ‘A Blueprint for Responsible Sourcing of Critical Minerals’, the CMA was pleased to see a number of its recommendations reflected in the UK Government’s Net Zero Strategy. In early 2022, the CMA organised a series of workshops for UK Government, to delve into the recommendations, put forward in its ESG paper, in greater depth with wider stakeholders. This workshop series included ‘A Talent Pipeline’ workshop and highlighted the importance of the UK investing in and developing the next generation of geoscientists, engineers, and metallurgists for critical mineral supply chains.
The UK cannot deliver the energy transition without significant extraction of critical raw materials – and the UK cannot responsibly produce these raw materials without qualified professionals and scientists, including geoscientists, engineers, and metallurgists. There has been a dramatic decline in the number of young people entering the mineral extraction and processing industry, and in the places available for them to study. The UK needs to incorporate critical minerals, geoscience, mineral processing, and engineering (including mining, geotechnical, civil, electrical, mechanical, and processing) into sustainability education initiatives and strategies.
The UK therefore needs to invest in training for individuals on how to find, extract and process raw materials. If there is a lack of investment in this training in the UK and its trading allies, this knowledge gap will be filled by countries that have identified the necessity of these skillsets and are developing their talent. UK-trained experts are renowned globally and often highly sought-after candidates, however, the tide is turning as less and less graduates are produced in these critical fields. The UK will lose its soft power and its competitive advantage when it comes to skills if the UK Government fails to recognise and promote geosciences as crucial to the energy transition.
Chairs of the CMA’s Perception of Mining Working Group, Lucy Crane (Cornish Lithium) and Ben Lepley (SRK Consulting) led the workshop, with Lucy moderating and Ben giving an excellent overview of the current situation. The workshop was attended by: The Geological Society, IOM3, Geoscience for the Future, Time for Geography, Women in Mining, Geologize, Social Mobility Foundation, Less Common Metals.
The recommendations put forward to Government were:
The UK Government has already committed to developing ‘Green Jobs’ and the skills needed to meet Net Zero ambitions as outlined in its Net Zero strategy. But the skills, and education pathways for geoscience, engineering and metallurgy related to critical minerals are not considered under this ‘Green Jobs’ umbrella. Many of our recommendations focused on building on the excellent work that Government is already undertaking around skills and ensuring that geoscience, engineering, metallurgy fit within the Government’s ‘Green Jobs’ initiatives.
The workshop covered four core themes, and a fifth was raised after the discussion, which are:
2. Careers Advice
4. Public Awareness
5. Innovation & Research
Social mobility and levelling up were core to the conversation and the group heard how many red brick university geology programmes are being discontinued due to lack of students. This ties into societal perception of mineral extraction – if young people, their parents, teachers, careers advisors are not taught that the energy transition depends upon materials which must be extracted, processed, and transported, a plethora of career options and school subjects are not being considered by young people at the crucial ages of choosing A-levels and university degrees. As a result, geoscience, mining related engineering, and metallurgy student numbers have been suffering.
As national curriculums are squeezed for time and subjects are divided into Geography, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, the question of where topics like geoscience, engineering, metallurgy fit becomes increasingly less clear. These disciplines, which underpin careers throughout critical mineral supply chains are multidisciplinary in nature. Recognising this discrepancy between the ‘standard’ subjects and their interdisciplinary cousins is an important first step in identifying where Government can support existing initiatives, modify the curriculum, and incorporate critical mineral skills education as part of its existing ‘sustainability education’ piece under green jobs.
We need people who care about climate change entering these career pathways. Talented young STEM aspirants should be made aware of the skills needed to meet Net Zero and shown the opportunities that exist. Every mineral has its own distinct composition and formation, which makes every mineral deposit and subsequent processing method unique. Only those who have studied geoscience/ engineering/ metallurgy at degree level can fully comprehend and operate in these highly technical, skilled, specialised environments.
We hope that UK Government takes on board our recommendations, and the insights which have been collated from engagement with stakeholders in this space. UK Government has an important leadership role to play, as it invests in Green Jobs, Levelling Up, and develops innovation and the school curriculum. We hope to see the importance of a talent pipeline recognised and featured in the critical minerals strategy.
There are many important initiatives and passionate individuals who are working hard, often with few resources, to help raise the profile of geoscience, engineering, metallurgy. Thank you to everyone who has dedicated their time and energy to developing future talent pipelines, improve social mobility and increase diversity. Your work is hugely important. We have featured a number of these initiatives in the appendix of the paper – if you would like to share your work with us, please do get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Industry, Academia, individuals all have a part to play as well. If you would like to support this important work you can:
2) Give a presentation to a nearby school/ your old school with our template - request access by signing up here or contacting email@example.com.
3) Become a CMA perception of mining champion – register your interest here.
4) Share the paper ‘A Talent Pipeline for Critical Minerals’ with your networks and contact us with your support/ experience/ suggestions!
Article by Kirsty Benham, Co-Founder, Critical Minerals Association