28/07/2016 - 16:21

Practical Engineering - Getting the hands dirty again and training for the future.

28/07/2016 - 16:21


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Practical Engineering - Getting the hands dirty again and training for the future.

With the future of manufacturing, construction, innovation and development in Australia over the next 20 years of vital importance to the resource sector, it’s time to reset and rethink how we plan to pass our industry knowledge and skills from our golden years on to the ‘generation next’ train coming through.

A growing focus on technology in education and workplaces means many young people have little or no experience of manual labour, and fail to develop the practical problem-solving skills required when working remotely on resources projects, or in our engineering and associated disciplines.

Over the years I have worked with many industry professionals who have learned their trade/profession by toiling away and ‘doing their time’, learning how to solve practical problems first hand with the resources available to them at the time.

In other words … hands-on experience.

So, how are we encouraging the next generation to get their hands dirty, to get out there and challenge themselves by finding out through trial and error what works and what doesn’t?

One example I deal with on a frequent basis in minerals and (to a lesser extent) gas processing is the black art of metallurgy in designing, optimising and turning rocks and material into precious, rare and ferrous metals through extracting, concentrating and refining.

The skills developed over many years by current professionals are in danger of being lost if they are not passed down to the group of workers coming through.

It’s not as ‘cool’ as it once was to be interested in and study chemistry and geology, and how they interact these days. Unless we embark on a journey to capture the skills perfected by the current crop of leaders, the future of our industry could be in doubt.

It doesn’t stop at the more academic roles and areas; it will also be an issue that is developing faster than we all realise in trades and labour. Apprenticeships need to be offered, traineeships need to be encouraged and mentors need to implement learning curriculums so we can steer the ‘generation next’ train headed down this steep slope back to a ‘get your hands dirty’ route. Learning first hand how to engineer and solve problems without relying on Google and ‘reverse engineering’ or to put it bluntly copying the last or closest person possible!

Let’s ensure that, as the employers of our engineering future, the structures are in place to ensure investment into these areas of training is well defined and encouraged at every turn. Get the hands-on training into your programs for the trainees, and send them into the field to experience the realities of problem solving from first principles. The mix between new creative ideas and the energy from the younger generations need to be cultivated in parallel with the old school learnings, and they should work hand in hand to ensure that the knowledge is passed on, and the circle of knowledge is widened.


Cameron is the Managing Director of Primero Group. Primero delivers multi-discipline 'turnkey' design and construct projects in the areas of minerals, energy & non-process infrastructure.




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