Investing in the next generation of leaders

Students are taught to analyse gold ore formations as part of an exploration activity.

The Gold Industry Group is sharing the gold mining sector’s strong focus on sustainability, starting from the education of young students across Australia. 

Workers have kept mining, the biggest economic contributor to Australia’s economy, a well-oiled machine. 

With mine sites sprawled across the remote regions of Australia, a skilled mining workforce cannot focus on just one state. 

The spread of mining talent has emphasised the importance of having a steady pipeline of workers across Australia. 

Creating an overarching reach in training and education isn’t easy, but the Gold Industry Group (GIG) is one industry body that has proven it is possible.

With the support of the GIG’s member companies, the group expanded its school program in 2020 to reach the next generation of gold industry leaders in Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Northern Territory, South Australia, Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania. 

Within one year, the national gold education program impacted more than 300 schools in Australia despite COVID-19 restrictions and hard border closures. 

The GIG delivered 300 gold resources kits containing gold and rock samples from gold mines to primary and secondary schools across all the Australian states and territories.

The education program’s Gold Class sessions were delivered face to face in Western Australia by skilled professionals who currently work for GIG member companies, reaching up to 32 students in every session. 

Northern Star Resources project resource geologist Michelle Forgette was one of the 14 Gold Class facilitators who delivered 21 Gold Class sessions at five primary and seven secondary schools across Perth, Kalgoorlie, Kambalda and Norseman last year. 

Telling Safe to Work about her experience as a facilitator, Forgette recalls how prepared she felt to deliver the program to the school children.

“I haven’t done this before, but I did the training online with the GIG and it was pretty neat. The people at the college knew that I was coming so it was all nicely set up,” Forgette says. 

“The kids had really good attention. I didn’t realise how much eye contact they would give you. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was an absolute blast.”

Her Gold Class session involved guiding grade eight students on the usage of geological and geophysical maps and modern technologies to find a gold mine. Importantly, the session highlights the applicability of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in the gold mining sector. 

It was important for Forgette to underline to the students that they didn’t need to be a geologist like her, and they could pursue other career options in the gold mining sector, ranging from a surveyor and engineer to a metallurgist. This was the area that Forgette gauged the highest interest from her audience.   

“I wore my Northern Star polo shirt, which clearly represented my employment in the gold industry,” she says.

“The students became especially interested when I started telling them about my role in the company and what I did as a geologist.

“I wanted to open up the different avenues and career paths that the young people could take and might never have thought about. They didn’t realise you could be a person who studied chemistry but still have an influence on a gold mine.”

Forgette also used the Gold Class session to underline the criticality and evidence of gold mining in everyday lives. 

Quizzing the students on the uses of gold beyond its popular appearance in jewellery, she pointed out its lesser-known presence in smart phones and spacesuit helmets. 

“I told them that gold was malleable. You can form different things with it, such as a sheet of paper or a brick, and the students were very impressed by that idea,” Forgette says. 

“To them, the idea of gold hunting was almost pirate-like, as in someone who’s looking for a hidden gold treasure.”

AngloGold Ashanti Australia geologist at the Sunrise Dam gold mine, Craig Talbot, exposed students at Duncraig High School in Western Australia to the subject of geology.

Talbot fulfilled his passion for rocks by including practical activities with theories as a facilitator for the GIG’s national gold education program.

As someone who came into the gold mining sector through the earth science stream in high school, the GIG’s national gold education program provided Talbot a way to pay the opportunity forward – by lighting the fire in the next generation of mining industry recruits.

“The fact it was a fun and hands-on activity really caught the attention of the students who asked some really good questions, and you could tell they had a genuine interest,” Talbot tells Safe to Work.

“I could not miss the opportunity to become a facilitator in this education program as I thought it would be a good way to give back and share my enthusiasm for geology.”

At other schools, primary school students learned how to create pulley systems for a range of scenarios.

GIG executive officer Rebecca Johnston says the program was developed with support from Australian Earth Science Education. 

“In addition to the interactive Gold Class sessions, we provide a range of free gold resources including gold resources kits, lesson plans, student materials and the Heart of Gold Australia app to grow students’ interest in Australia’s gold industry,” Johnston says.

“We are looking forward to commencing the sessions in Victoria in term two and New South Wales later in the year.” 

The GIG’s national gold education program will only expand from here. Its number of trained facilitators will grow to more than 80 in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales this year. 

This story also appears in the May issue of Safe To Work.

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