The image of a surveyor carting a theodolite around a mine site is becoming one for the archives. But as technological advances impact the role, it’s not just the tools that are disappearing; it’s the surveyors themselves.
According to the Surveyors Trust study into the future demand, supply and skills gap of surveying and geospatial professionals, workforce shortages have been looming for over a decade¹. At this year’s AIMS Conference, Dr Glen Campbell from USQ, Australia’s largest Surveying education provider stated, “The demand for graduates in the surveying industry has been high for many years and keenly felt within the resources sector.”² Others in the field have predicted a projected gap against demand of 302 surveyors by 2023³ – an ominous concern for the mining sector.
The falloff from an ageing profession, erratic uptake on degree courses, and a preference by some surveyors to avoid contracts in isolated locations, suggests predictions about a shortfall are already being realised.
Surveying graduates, even those with diplomas, command healthy starting salaries. Mid-career professionals can expect AU$150,000 and experienced surveyors up to AU$200,000; so many can afford to be selective about the contracts they take.
In an industry that relies heavily on surveyors throughout every stage of the mining lifecycle, the pressure to find and engage reliable, cost-effective surveying services to support them is paramount. New mining operations face stiff competition for surveying services and must factor in this cost. Operational mines evolve and need continuous surveying to gather volumetric data and ensure currency to meet the demands of monthly reporting.
The solution lies in streamlining the process to maximise surveyors’ time on site through advanced data gathering via drone technology, which is collated and delivered in the prerequisite format.
Evan McKern, General Manager at Rocketmine WA, believes the increased cost of surveying services caused by the workforce shortages can be offset effectively, due to the speed, accuracy and reliability of drone surveying and mapping capabilities. This puts data in the hands of surveyors in their designated format in record time.
While flying a drone is not difficult, it is not in the remit of a costly surveyor nor a viable use of their time. Professional drone teams are trained not just in aviation, but in fundamental surveying and data processing, enabling them to deliver information in a form which is fit for purpose.
Rocketmine contracts involve one or two dedicated pilots per site on a rostered basis, but with a degree of adaptability that enables them to be responsive to need. Collection of crucial volumetric data to meet deadlines for monthly reporting is an example.
The relationship between mine and Rocketmine means that all onsite groups can benefit from the surveying data –including mining engineers, geotechnical engineers, safety and compliance professionals, and environmental and processing teams.
An additional cost benefit of a fixed monthly fee is that the operatives are already on site to perform additional data collection and processing in areas such as risk assessment, aerial surveys of tailings dams or gathering open pit spatial data, negating the need for more expensive ad hoc travel and projects.
The theodolites are destined for the museums as automated solutions to data gathering are refined. Some new isolated mining ventures will rely heavily on autonomous solutions with a skeleton staff and others working remotely to save money.
Drone technology, which is advancing daily, will play a critical role as data deliverer in these future scenarios but, for now, is a viable and cost-effective solution to supplementing the gaps felt by surveyor shortages.
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