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Geologists are only spending 10-30% of their time on geology. How do we change this? | Geohug

July 25, 2023

Geologists are only spending 10-30% of their time on geology. How do we change this? | Geohug

Industry Insights
For Geologists
Written by
Megan Gammie

Are you a geologist who feels buried in paperwork instead of rocks?

You’re not alone!

Meet a growing online movement - #FreeTheGeos, a sentiment that has echoed with geos from around the world who want to spend more time doing actual geology. 

The origins of #FreeTheGeos

Earlier this year, CorePlan shared this post that went viral on LinkedIn after it was shared by Mark Arundell, Principal Geologist at IMEx Consulting. 

Do your geos need an emotional support rock?

Hundreds of geologists shared their perspectives in the online discussion, and it seemed as though #FreeTheGeos means something different to everyone.

Some said the industry needs to completely rethink the role of geologists and what that means in today’s operating environment, whereas others said that’s just the way it is and that we need to just suck it up, find an emotional support rock, and get on with it.

After receiving almost 100,000 views and hundreds of comments, CEO of GeoHug, Jessica Keast, could see there was an appetite in the industry to #FreeTheGeos.

And so she assembled a panel of experts to share their unique industry perspectives on the many distractions faced by geologists in a modern mining environment.

The panellists:

  • Mark Arundell (IMEx Consulting)
  • Michelle Carey (IMDEX)
  • Paula Dell McCumstie (AMEC)
  • Phil Gilmore (GEMS)
  • Alex Goulios (CorePlan)

Here’s what the thought leaders had to say about how geologists can start doing more geology.

The problem with the geology profession - as told by geologists

Mark surveyed a range of geologists before the panel, and made a shocking discovery. The geologists he spoke to claim to only spend as little as 10% to 30% of their working week on tasks that are actually related to geology

It was a sentiment echoed by all panellists, who agreed that it’s incredibly difficult for the modern geologist to find balance in all of the tasks that, whilst necessary, are a distraction from geology, including logistics, health and safety management, stakeholder engagement, environmental and compliance monitoring, and endless reporting.

How did we get here?

The panel reflected on this development and concluded that it totally contradicts the expectations of geologists to be specialists. But when exploration is getting increasingly harder, with common factors such as budget and staffing constraints, they posed the question of why (and how) geologists are being faced with these conditions.

“Exploration is no longer a walk in the bush - it’s much more complex to make a discovery today. There are also more stakeholders involved, increasing regulations and more and more data to be captured. And it all falls on the shoulders of geologists." - Alex Goulios, CorePlan

Despite the changing environment, the industry has failed to shift its approach.

“We’re still stuck in the 50s and 60s in our approach to exploration” says Mark Arundell. “Is it really any wonder that discovery rates are down?”

Is the industry asking the right questions?

“In mining…there’s a tendency to resist change. We talk a lot about digitisation, but we haven’t followed through; industry productivity peaked in the 90s” - Alex Goulios, CorePlan

This is not the case in other industries that have soared ahead whilst mining has stagnated.

“We’re so far behind, relative to industries like Oil and Gas” says Mark. 

So how do we unlock the stalled productivity - and what would the results be for geos? Would they really be free? 

Practical strategies to #FreeTheGeos

The panel shared a range of perspectives from across the industry, from the individual and company level, right through to industry-wide change.

Here is a summary of the tips they shared. Watch the video below for the full story.

Tips for individuals:

  • Track your time

Understanding how geologists distribute their time across the week between different tasks can help to determine the most effective way forward. (Phil Gilmore)

  • Block out time for deep thinking - without distractions

Make time in your schedule purely for thinking. During this time it might help to consult maps or do some sketching - but make sure to turn off your emails and put your phone on do not disturb. (Phil Gilmore)

Tips for companies:

  • Help your geologists develop skills they need to tackle the tasks at hand:

The university curriculum doesn’t necessarily prepare geologists for the realities of the job, including tasks like stakeholder management and land access negotiations. Continuous professional development is essential, and where it may not be feasible, consult the experts. (Paula Dell McCumstie)

  • Implement the right support structures for your team

Are there structures in place that support your team to do their best work? For example, one of the commonly overlooked support functions for geologists is administrative support, which has disappeared over the years with geos having to take up the slack. Consider exploring ways to lighten to the load for your geos in this area by using the right tools and structuring your team in a way that supports the core function of performing geology work. (Phil Gilmore)

  • Don’t be afraid to throw out your playbook and try new things

The industry is changing and what worked, 3, 5 or 10 years ago isn’t necessarily going to work in today’s operating environment. (Alex Goulios)

  • Start leaning on digital tools to get more done

Tools exist today to help your team work smarter, not harder. And in today’s competitive employment environment, people have the freedom to walk and consider complete packages, including how they would like to work, and getting the opportunity to work with tools now that will define the future of the industry. (Michelle Carey and Alex Goulios)

Tips for the industry:

  • Start looking outside the box:

It can be tempting to run away from METS solutions providers at industry events. But don’t discount the problem-solving lense they can bring to geological problems. Talk to them. You might come away with a new perspective you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. (Mark Arundell)

  • It’s not always just about the geos:

Great fieldies are worth their weight in gold, butit’s often perceived as a ‘dead-end’ job by the industry because there’s no clear career path and limited opportunities to move up. We need to create more pathways for the important, but undervalued, work that’s ‘geo-adjacent’ and helps us make discoveries. (Mark Arundell)

A future with less geologists?

Michelle raised an important point, which is that if we are going to free the geos, it should be for meaningful work that allows them to utilise their specialist skills, not data collection.

But what might happen if the industry did shift its approach?

Michelle theorised that this could mean that less geologists will be needed in the future. However, there’s no need to panic just yet!

Alex suggested that the field has a lot to do to attract and retain talent amidst plummeting graduate numbers.

Perhaps an industry-wide restructure of the role of a geologist will help mining adapt to changing market conditions. What do you think?

Check out the full conversation on GeoHug’s YouTube channel.

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