With the hindsight of lifelong careers, Ruth Allington and Viv Russell discuss why geologists should consider a career in the quarrying and mineral products industry
Founded on a love for rock, Ruth Allington, President of the Geological Society, has enjoyed a highly successful career as a consultant in the quarrying and mineral products sector, including 38 years at GWP Consultants LLP. Starting out there as a graduate and ending as Joint Senior Partner, she designed quarries and other open pits in the UK and overseas, provided consulting advice on their operation and impacts, and contributed expert input to the resolution of disputes.
Likewise, Viv Russell, President of the Institute of Quarrying (the professional body for the quarrying, mineral extraction and processing industries), has a love of the great outdoors and rocks that enabled him to enjoy a successful career within the quarrying and mineral products sector spanning over four decades. Viv started his career at 16 as a laboratory technician before becoming a quarry operative and ended as the managing director of a multi-million-pound aggregates company.
So, what is it about working in one of the world’s largest manufacturing industries that is attractive to a geologist?
A minerals economy
Minerals impact virtually all aspects of our everyday lives – they are used in housing, schools, hospitals, roads, rail, energy supply, airports, ports, food, water, agriculture, and many emerging technologies. The economy could not function and the transition to an energy-secure, low-carbon economy would not be possible without minerals.
Minerals and mineral products represent the largest material flow in the UK economy at around one million tonnes per day in a typical year (Mineral Products Association, 2022), the majority of which is raw materials for construction (such as aggregates, cement raw materials and building stone). The sector employs around 81,000 people in the UK (Mineral Products Association, 2022), including a significant number of professionals, such as geologists, engineers, and technicians.
The demand for geologists in the quarrying and mineral products industry is high. This sector offers a good career pathway, as well as hands-on experience, ample opportunities for in-service training, education and professional growth, and the opportunity to shape sustainable development.
“The quarrying and mineral products industry is a very good fit for geologists,” says Ruth, “yet it is one that is often overlooked despite the excellent and wide-ranging professional opportunities. Planning and operating a quarry is a team enterprise to achieve an operation that can be worked efficiently, safely, profitably and with minimum adverse impacts on the environment and people. It requires a range of expertise and skills deployed collaboratively and iteratively. However, the starting point is always the rock, and that is where you need geologists as part of your team.”
Ruth and Viv agree that it is no accident that many of the leaders in the industry started out as geologists working in quarries and have transferred and developed their particular mindset, skills and experience into leadership roles.
The Institute of Quarrying, Minerals Products Qualifications Council, Mineral Products Association, and British Aggregates Association are encouraging professionals to put themselves forward as industry ambassadors to help promote the sector to future generations.
For details about Minerals Matter and how to get involved, visit www.minerals-matter.co.uk
Geologists play a crucial role in identifying new sources of minerals to meet demand, and in the environmental and other studies needed to underpin responsible quarry planning and design. A diverse range of skills are required, and there is a variety of opportunities for employment in the sector, as well as career advancement and competitive salaries.
“The mineral products industry is one of the largest employers in the UK manufacturing sector and there are many great career opportunities available, whether that’s surveying, geology, consultancy, technical support, commercial or operational work,” explains Viv. “We must not, as perhaps we have done over the years, shy away from telling people all the great things we do. We must work in collaboration with industry operators and organisations to highlight the excellent career pathways and opportunities the sector has available – whether that’s inspiring six-year-olds in geology, influencing 50-year-olds to come back into the industry, or mentoring geologists to achieve Chartered Geologist status through the Geological Society.”
The mineral products sector provides geologists with hands-on experience in the field, which can be valuable for professional development. Individuals can gain experience in drilling and blasting techniques, mapping, and geological surveys, all of which can be useful for a wide range of geological applications.
Viv continues: “One pivotal element about our industry is that it has a fantastic track record for developing people – I am living proof of that! It is common for a company to pay for education and development opportunities for its staff. There are also opportunities to travel the world and work in some remarkable locations and environments – something people often don’t realise.”
To meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the mineral products sector, like many other industries, faces increasing environmental and social pressures to operate sustainably and responsibly. Geologists can help companies minimise the impact of operations on the environment and local communities by identifying areas that are environmentally sensitive or culturally significant and designing extraction methods that minimise disruption.
Ruth explains: “The mineral products sector has a strong understanding and culture of working collaboratively. With the help of geologists – and through sharing and spreading our knowledge, ideas, and innovative solutions – we can improve standards and, ultimately, deliver a proactive, sustainable industry with a successful future.”
“Geologists are sensitive that people need to be stewards of the landscapes they work on,” adds Viv.
Inspiring future generations
One of Viv’s passions is to future-proof the sector’s ageing workforce and highlight the variety of educational and lifelong learning pathways that are industry imperatives.
For those thinking about career options in the minerals industry, Minerals Matter is a coordinated cross-sector approach to address the key challenges the industry faces around diversity and the skills gap, and to promote the positive contribution of the industry to the economy, as well as efforts around decarbonisation and the circular economy. Ultimately, Minerals Matter aims to connect with a range of audiences, championing the diverse and inclusive career opportunities within the sector.
Viv concludes: “We are encouraging the whole mineral products industry to get behind this approach and take collective responsibility for solving the workforce succession challenges the sector faces. If we can engage with young people and educate them on the amazing range of career opportunities available, we are one step closer to developing a talent pipeline for the sector.”
Viv Russell, FIQ, FGS, is President of the Institute of Quarrying and Chief Executive Officer of the Mineral Products Qualifications Council. He has a degree (BSc Hons) in Geology, a Master of Science (MSc) in Industrial Mineralogy, and an MBA.
Ruth Allington, FGS, FIQ, FIMMM, CEng, CGeol, is President of the Geological Society, and a Trustee of the Institute of Quarrying. A Chartered Geologist, Chartered Engineer and qualified mediator and facilitator, Ruth has a BSc in Geology and Geography, an MSc in Engineering Geology and an MBA.
Interview by Sarah Fry, Head of Membership and Marketing, Institute of Quarrying, UK
- Mineral Products Association, (2022), UK Minerals Strategy [online] Available at: https://mineralproducts.org/MPA/media/root/Publications/2022/UK_Minerals_Strategy_2022.pdf [Accessed 17 February 2023]