South Africa’s mining sector is struggling to bridge the skills gap with half of its mining engineer graduates abandoning the sector within five years of qualifying.

The University of Witwatersrand’s school of mining engineering outgoing head professor Huw Phillips said the past success of the South African mining sector has been due to the university’s ability to attract students to take up mining-related degrees.

“In the past, mining in South Africa was viewed as the backbone of the economy, which it still is,” Phillips said.

“However, greater scrutiny of mining accidents, greater concern for the environment and awareness of the social effects of mining have resulted in a less attractive public image and the mining industry needs to address this.

“If the brightest matriculants are to be attracted to mining-industry careers, they need to be assured that they will have viable careers that will make a contribution to the future of the country.”

Philips said the availability of skills will be a key factor in the success of current efforts to improve productivity and safety.