Mining of metals and minerals is a growth industry, especially in Africa, providing job opportunities for metallurgists to work in various roles. Positions are well paid as metallurgists are required to have at least one degree from an accredited university or college. The preferred qualifications are a Bachelors Degree in Extractive Metallurgy or Metallurgical Engineering or BSc. in Chemical Engineering with a major in Mineral Processing. This is not a profession where candidates can learn the required skills on the job although experience can be gained throughout their career by expanding their exposure to different types of work on mines.
The type of work they do
The most common metallurgist roles include project management, consulting, technical or site management and research. For example, on a mine he/she would be expected to:
- Design work programs and manage all metallurgical testing both in-house and with external service providers and laboratories
- Work with the senior team to review and evaluate technical solutions
- Liaise with geologists and other technical personnel to ensure the most suitable metallurgical solution is understood and employed
- Constantly re-evaluate the metallurgical performance
At middle management level, as a project manager they would coordinate day-to-day mining activities, manage quality assurance and generally ensure a smooth operation. Mining companies look for a minimum of 5 years experience before they post these types of managers to remotely located mines. At the most senior level metallurgists can become mine managers which includes coordinating all operations, staffing, running the site itself, selecting the extraction process, and resolving operational and business issues.
Furthering a career
Metallurgists with further education and extensive experience in many technical processes become professional consultants or researchers either working directly for a large mining company or for a consulting firm contracted to it. Their role may be to advise clients on process engineering, to perform cost analyses or do budgeting. They may get involved in environmental impact assessments, HSEQ and social responsibility as well. The mining industry is constantly updating its methods of extraction and waste management in order to stay profitable and needs researchers to continue to explore new methods and processes. Pay levels vary depending on work experience, area of expertise and the location where they are posted.
Some of the personal attributes required to be successful in this field are to be an effective team player, have a high level of inter-personal communication skills and be able to express yourself in writing. A good knowledge of French is often asked for when an African posting is offered. Because of inhospitable locations and remoteness of mines, most of the postings attract single people or more mature staff who do not have school-going children.