Just over a year ago, I heard from a reputable source that a large mining company was plucking geology students out of third year at a Canadian university and offering employment at the same salary a qualified geologist would earn. The offer was tempting, and a few abandoned their studies to pursue the opportunity. But I wonder what has become of them? Are they victims of the wave of layoffs that have hit the mining sector? And, if so, will they ever return to their geoscience studies after seeing just how cyclical the mining industry can be?
Enrollments in undergraduate geoscience programs have been increasing in lock step with growth in the mining, oil and gas and environmental sectors. For the 2008-2009 academic year, enrollment in the U.S. jumped 8% to 22,191. Students in Texas A&M's department of geology and geophysics doubled in two years, mostly because of pent up demand in from oil and gas companies. Canada has witnessed similar increases since 2003 and enrollment in this country now stands at about 3,000.
Graduate studies in geoscience, on the other hand, have levelled off in both countries because of lack of funding. If the resource sector wants the growing crop of undergraduates to be available to them down the road, they might consider funding more graduate students so that there will be a pool of highly-qualified geoscientists ready to enter the workforce when the good times return.Otherwise, as we have seen so many times before, the resource sector’s future leaders and innovators may drift to other sectors because they can’t find jobs in their chosen profession. And the human resources shortages witnessed just a couple of years ago will seem like a bounty in comparison.