It was an honour and privilege to take part in the 2016 Career and Leadership Conference. This prestigious event, which was hosted in the Wits Great Hall, provided an insight into the challenges that are currently faced by the mining industry. I was also grateful for the opportunity of seeing different stakeholders from the mineral sector gathering for the same purpose, from students in the mining and metallurgy schools of four universities (Wits, UJ, UNISA, and UP), academic staff, and mining industry executives such as Thabile Makgala, Vice-President of Strategy and Development at Gold Fields and Thabo Moloto, Director of Operations at Shaft Sinkers.

The conference provided me with an opportunity to learn that, as the future leaders of the industry, we cannot ignore the fact that the mineral sector is currently not doing very well. This is due to a number of factors, amongst others that the mining industry is still struggling to recover from the global financial crisis; hence most students are becoming uncertain about their future in the sector, especially those whose studies are not funded by mining companies as they cannot be assured of employment after graduation.

The message to those students was very clear; they must never lose hope and continue working hard so that they can find solutions that will assist the revival of the mining sector.

Students who are future mining executives and were present at the Great Hall on 19 August were more likely to be involved in planning, extraction, and processing as well as rehabilitation. Hence, as future leaders of the industry, we should not only focus on how mining is defined in the textbooks, as the industry is constantly changing. It is therefore vital that we also adjust and change our view of things. Being an engineer should not only be about technical ability. That is one lesson I learnt while interacting with the ‘big guns’ of the mineral sector.

Another lesson I learnt is that we should not lose touch with the wellbeing of the workers. We should be able to touch their minds and hearts, and in return they will lend us their hands. With that skill, we will be able to develop and nurture the human capital, and empathize with our employees so that we become good leaders.

There are a lot of opportunities in the mining industry, which the second panel discussion deliberated on. Amongst others, has the South African junior mining sector been assisting graduates with vacation work and employment as much as it could have done? During the boom years, the major mining companies like Anglo, BHP Billiton, and De Beers competed for students, but this is no longer the case, and it makes sense for students to consider carefully ways and means of entering the junior sector. The panellists also spoke about ways of raising funding in order to branch out into entrepreneurship, such as starting a small exploration company or developing a mine.

In a nutshell, the event was a resounding success!

(Fortune Msibi is a 4th year student at Wits University)