Expert Insight

“Technology can help change industry stigmas”

Young professionals can face a ‘black box’ mentality when entering the industry

July 28, 2020

Ryan Hampton

Expert Insight
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February 21, 2020
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Ryan Hampton is a precious metals analyst with Standard Chartered Bank, having started his career as an exploration geologist in Georgia. He is also a member of the Young Mining Professionals. Ryan spoke to Mining Journal about the challenges facing graduates entering the sector, the perception of his chosen career path among friends and family, and where he sees the industry moving into the future.

Mining Journal: What initially attracted you to the mining industry?

Ryan Hampton: The opportunity to travel as a core function of a job as well as the skilled worker deficit facing the industry – allowing a motivated individual to quickly develop in order to meet the skills shortage.

But when speaking to both teachers and classmates, this direction was understandably not well understood. It was viewed negatively as ‘dirty’ and also looked over for the traditional high-skilled jobs.

MJ: How did you pursue your ambition?

RH: Growing up in the UK, the Camborne School of Mines was the obvious undergraduate choice to gain applied geological experience and pursue a career in the metals and mining industry.

The diversity of the roles that the class went on to fill speaks volumes about the requirement for fundamental geological and geotechnical skills. They include engineering roles at nuclear power plants, site investigation/remediation roles and finally all elements of the metals and mining chain.

Graduating in 2016 was a real challenge in terms of getting a foothold in the industry, especially in the junior mining sector. However, I found myself on a flight to the Republic of Georgia to begin work as an exploration geologist on several exciting gold-copper prospects.

The perception of the industry and the consequences of this on future investments and shareholders remains uncertain

Again, speaking to family about the role I was offered, the stigma surrounding the mining industry was clear to see. This was further compounded by certain buzzwords in the mining industry that evoke a strong negative sentiment.

MJ: What were your first impressions of mining as an employee?

RH: Entering the industry, it became clear how small and close-knit the workforce was and how pervasive someone’s reputation can be.

I was fortunate to work within a small local and expatriate team that provided the chance for exposure to senior tasks and responsibilities. This is not always the case with a ‘black box’ mentality to junior staff commonly adopted. The remote nature of the role can further compound this, with the only exposure to non-company staff in the form of fleeting consultants and potential investors.

Organisations such as Young Mining Professionals have helped directly address this problem within the industry. It has allowed younger professionals to network beyond work contacts and accelerate their learning with focus groups and mentor sessions.

But, in general, the industry was everything I had initially hoped for: rewarding and exciting exploration work with high localised autonomy provided by the directors; the rush of making a discovery, beginning to understand the geological system in place; and the opportunity to travel during the breaks of a FIFO roster.

As a result of a discovery, I also had the opportunity to develop the maiden resource on the project. This provided exposure to development scenarios and negotiations with the producing joint-venture partner.

MJ: What prompted the move away from rocks?

RH: After spending a few years in a ground-based technical role, it became clear my strengths lay with the evaluation of strategic elements. I decided to pursue a Masters in Metals and Energy Finance at Imperial College London to enhance these skills.

Following that course, I took a position within the downstream precious metals business at Standard Chartered Bank. Working at a major bank has been an important learning experience and highlighted the differences in resources available and autonomy compared to a junior exploration company. Having previously worked in an upstream role, the ability to work at the other end of the business has provided insight into the fundamental drivers of the value chain and how exploration and mining companies may best meet them.

MJ: Having that breadth of experience early in your career, how do you see the future of mining?

RH: The future direction of the industry is fundamentally very sure: there is still unprecedented demand for metal products that can only be met by mining. There is also an emergence of new metal demand to meet the renewable era, namely for the components of batteries.

MJ: What are the threats?

RH: The perception of the industry and the consequences of this on future investments and shareholders remains uncertain. This has resulted in varying solutions from major mining companies being put forth and highlighted, perhaps, how the industry is currently unsure of how best to act. Integration of social and environmental responsibilities with value for shareholders in the new generation of modern mining will be a key area.

Another key issue being faced is the wave of resource nationalism within key jurisdictions and how international mining companies navigate this challenge. This also presents concerns for expatriate technical staff and where they fit within new setups. Proactive engagement with jurisdictions at a government and local level will hopefully resolve issues and allow projects to provide real, positive change to poorer areas around the world.

MJ: As a younger professional, do you feel the industry can meet these challenges?

RH: A refreshing element of the industry is the recent technological advancements of operations from autonomous electric-haul vehicles at site to new processing techniques, or sources of financing such as streaming companies.

For an industry commonly misconstrued as old-fashioned and dirty, the steps being taken provide new avenues of growth and innovation to combat the declining grades and increasing lead times of projects. They also help address stigmas faced by the industry and can change the communication of the industry from a passive, ‘outside looking in’ approach to an active engagement with the media.  

Women in Mining is a great success story of the industry embracing change. The organisation is seeking to tackle gender inequality within the industry and mentality surrounding that. They have thrived through taking a proactive approach to networking and creation of opportunities for ambitious women to succeed in the industry.

I think the industry’s ability to proactively tackle perceptions and ESG issues will determine its fate. Innovation in all aspects of the sector can help deliver this positive message and ensure that projects meet the demand for commodities and provide a platform of opportunity for host countries.

For graduates, it’s an exciting time to be a part of this uncertain yet important change to modern mining.

Expert Insight
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July 28, 2020

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