Africa’s mining industry has been making a recovery after the fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and the rise in commodity prices can attest to this. As well as this, a global shift towards green technologies is underway, meaning commodities like nickel, copper, lithium, cobalt, and heavy rare earth elements that can be used to produce these are in high demand. These metals can be mined underground (and in the case of nickel, only underground), meaning the number of underground mining jobs is set to expand worldwide.

Underground mining is lucrative in Africa, particularly in countries such as Ghana, South Africa, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Sudan. And with the increase in opportunities in the underground mining field in Africa and the potential to earn a high salary, you may be among the many people considering a career in the industry. But before you commit yourself to this industry, know that an underground mining job is reportedly not for the faint of heart. However, it can be rewarding. It’s important to do some research and ask: is working in underground mining really the career for you?

Here are some of the things to know about getting and working in an underground mining job and the various roles you can pursue.

What level of education do you need?

You don’t need a degree to enter the industry as a mining operator, but you do need a Grade 10 education at the very least. However, companies are most likely to hire candidates with computer literacy and even a qualification in mining from a high school or technical school programme due to the increasingly complicated technology and processes involved in mining. Schools like this are typically situated near mines, giving prospective employees the chance to get to know mining environments.

For an underground operator position, you’ll get in-service training to get a certificate such as a Blasting Certificate before you start the job. It is possible to advance from this position; you could become a mine overseer by getting a Mine Overseer’s certificate once you have had enough experience.

However, if you’re interested in positions such as manager, geologist, metallurgist, or engineer, you’ll require at least a bachelor’s degree.

What makes someone a suitable candidate for an underground mining job?

This depends, of course, on the role. For underground operator roles, along with the required level of education, physical stamina, physical and mental strength, and health are all necessary traits to have (miners will need to have a physical check-up before starting at a job in a mine). These jobs are labour-intensive, and the work hours are long. Along with this, an underground operator needs to be trustworthy and conscious of safety to do well in the job.

Most, if not all, roles in underground mining require good interpersonal and communications skills as well as time management and organisational skills, some require leadership skills, and some positions such as engineering and metallurgy roles are best suited to technically minded people with analytical, problem-solving, and maths skills.

However, whatever the position, the most successful worker will be someone who’s open to learning, conscientious, and committed to the job.

Important to know

Working in underground mines is not for the fainthearted. It comes with many safety risks and health hazards. Various roles can involve having to perform dangerous tasks, and the underground mining environment itself poses dangers. These include:

  • The fast, easy spread of viruses such as COVID-19 due to many workers being packed in lifts
  • Coal dust, which can cause ‘black lung’ – in the case of coal mines
  • Whole body vibration – in operators
  • Toxic air
  • The possibility of cave-ins
  • Hazardous chemicals
  • Extreme temperatures that can result in heat stroke or even long-term health problems
  • Explosions
  • Potential hearing damage from overexposure to loud noise

Another thing to know about working in an underground mining job is that it will likely be situated in a remote location, as most mines are, and mine workers are usually in mining camps and away from home for months at a time. In addition, the hours are long – for an equipment operator, a 12-hour shift is typical – and miners will work 10-14 consecutive days before having a day off.

However, at the end of the day…
If you want to have an interesting, high-paying, and challenging job in which you’ll learn a lot and have opportunities for career advancement and are willing to face the risks, a position in underground mining may be highly rewarding and just the job for you.

Want to learn more about roles in underground mining in Africa and find job opportunities? Go here.