Encouraging young people to enter mining

Oliver has seven years’ experience as an equity research analyst, having worked at VTB Capital where he covered global natural resources companies and the commodity markets. He is also a member of Young Mining Professionals. We caught up with him ahead of Mines and Money London.

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Mines and Money London

Oliver O’Donnell, Research; Natural Resources & China, VSA Capital

Interviewed by

Andrew Thake, Mines and Money

8th October 2018

 Mines and Money (MM): What’s the biggest challenge facing the mining industry?

Oliver O’Donnell (OD): Permitting risk and political risk increasingly manifests itself as resource nationalism whether projects are based in Africa or in Europe. This is not going to go away and it means miners have to be proactive and demonstrate how their projects will benefit countries and communities directly or more situations like Indonesia and Tanzania while South Africa’s new Mining Charter highlights the challenge of appeasing the conflicting interests. Such scrutiny over mining practices is likely to increase as end users producing “green” products want to minimise reputational risk via their supply chains.

MM: What do you think the industry needs to do to improve its reputation?

OD: Place more emphasis on how they can reduce their impact during extraction as well as post mine rehabilitation to reassure communities as part of the initial project design. With battery materials one of the major secular drivers for the mining sector it is important that miners can demonstrate that they can minimise their environmental impact and be part of a sustainable supply chain. Embracing new technology will be key as is beginning to happen in the lithium sector where producers are looking to transition away from traditional evaporation techniques towards ion exchange and other extraction technologies. Centamin are making big efforts at Sukari to incorporate solar power into the mine plan. The use of batteries will also help reduce unit costs as the combination of solar power and batteries enables remote mines to end reliance on grid infrastructure and diesel generators at low cost. This will help improve environmental credentials and enhance economics ultimately.

MM: What did you study at university/higher education? Did it prepare you for the mining industry? Is enough being done at university/higher education level to promote mining?

OD: Physical Geography at Durham University. Not specifically but a lot of the skills for assessing data in a scientific approach are directly transferable. No one can be an expert on everything in the industry and I think people can be easily pigeon holed or put off by the fact they aren’t a geologist, an engineer or a metallurgist. Every company needs them but engineers aren’t geologists and vice versa and they’re plenty of successful and knowledgeable people in the industry who have developed a broader skillset beyond their technical background. In the UK mining is no longer a significant contributor to the economy and so I didn’t feel a particularly strong presence from mining companies which is understandable although with so many companies listed here, albeit with asset’s abroad, perhaps more effort should be made. With the UK’s oil and gas industry there were certainly greater efforts made by oil companies.

MM: What one thing can the mining industry do to encourage more young people?

OD: Highlight the breadth of opportunities within the sector. The vast range of commodities as well as the more specialty minerals, and different job opportunities from exploration geology through to corporate and investment analysis as well as the geographical diversity within the sector is barely known by people outside it.

MM: What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

OD: That getting a foot on the ladder is the most important step. It is more important to spend time getting the relevant skills and knowledge than simply to get experience if that is not relevant to where you want to end up. Companies, especially at the junior end, are increasingly opening themselves to retail investors which means more opportunities to interact with companies directly. This is a great opportunity to directly discuss the industry and specific projects with experienced hands; management by and large are always keen to talk about their projects

Andrew Thake

Head of Content, Mines and Money