exampaperComprehensive rock engineering learning material for the South African mining industry is almost complete – and you can download it for free. Read more about it.

The writing of comprehensive rock engineering material for the South African mining industry started in the first half of 2011. It should be completed by end of March this year. At the time of writing this article, Paper 1 was complete. It should be available for download, free of charge, on the Sanire website by the time you read this article. The other papers will be available for download as and when they are completed.

Why is this so important? The skills shortage in the South African mining industry is a big worry, especially in the field of rock engineering. The poor pass rate of the Chamber of Mines Rock Mechanics Certificate examinations, especially pass rates for the theory paper, gives major cause for concern. In the most recent examination, only two out of 98 candidates passed paper 1 and only 18 certificates have been issued since 2007 (up until the beginning of 2011).

In 2008, the Chamber of Mines (CoM) organised the CEO roundtable and tripartite summit on health and safety where they reviewed the progress to commitments that were agreed to in the Chamber's Roadmap to Zero Harm. One of the commitments relating to rock engineering was the development of a strategy to attract, train and retain rock engineering skills in the industry.

As part of this process the Rock Engineering Technical Committee (RETC) recommended to the CEOs that funding should be made available for the development of comprehensive rock engineering training material based on the existing rock engineering syllabi. The motivation behind the recommendation was to improve the pass rate of the Chamber of Mines Rock Mechanics Certificate (CoM RMC). It is the opinion of the committee that this can be achieved if a candidate goes through a structured learning process covering the full syllabus.

There have been a number of requests in the past for such course material without success. Members of the RETC believe that this initiative will produce more and better qualified rock engineering practitioners, which will ultimately lead to an improvement in rock related safety in the South African mining industry.

Funding

Following the CEO roundtable the proposal was tabled before the CoM Health and Safety Committee, which recommended that the CoM approach the Mines Qualifications Authority (MQA) to assist with funding. The RETC, led by the Chamber of Mines Skills Development Advisor, approached the MQA with a request for funds to prioritise the development of the training material.

Through Sanire, a request for the development of the training material was sent to the rock engineering fraternity. These proposals were presented to the RETC and MIDDindi Consulting and SIM mining consultants were chosen as the successful bidders.

This process included an evaluation of how tertiary learning institutions construct course modules. It was decided that the interactive format used by the University of Pretoria is most appropriate. Consideration was given to the fact that the training material would in future be used as part of a tertiary rock engineering qualification, replacing the current CoM certificate.

The proposal was tabled and approved at the MQA board meeting towards the end of 2010. The MQA decided to fund the full amount required for the development of the comprehensive training material, which includes hard rock tabular, soft rock tabular (coal), open pit and massive mining disciplines. It was decided that the learning material will be made available at no cost to industry.

Usable

The primary intention of the learning material was not to write another rock engineering handbook, but rather to give learners a tool to navigate the vast amount of study material available, while explaining the different rock engineering concepts. The learning material is unique in its combination of usefulness and usability. Features that make it very user friendly include:

  • • Cross-references with links between different sections of related learning material and simple navigation back and forth between learning material and references.
  • • Links to reference material such as handbooks, useful websites, codes of practices, online calculators and other useful tools.
  • • Links to a section that covers required background knowledge for specific topics covered in the learning material.
  • • Worked out examples of calculations, practical applications, animations and video clips.
  • • Interesting background information.
  • • Colour coded system, with icons, that clearly distinguishes between the above.

Evolving

Members of the RETC were of the opinion that the learning material would go a long way in assisting candidates to prepare for the examinations, but felt that it was not enough to address the serious skills shortage in the short term. It was therefore decided to explore the possibility of offering full-time rock engineering training to gain maximum benefit from the learning material.

Duncan Adams was approached by the RETC to put together a full-time training proposal for the industry and you should have received communication about the resulting the course by now. It was decided to focus solely on Paper 1 for the May examinations, as a pilot project. The course will take about 20 days to complete and it should start early in April. Full-time courses could be expanded to cover all papers for the October examinations, if this model proves to be successful.

The examination committee was also approached to ensure the necessary alignment between the learning material, lecturers and examiners.

The final, and probably the most critical ingredient is the commitment from the candidates to putting in the necessary hours of study in order to make this a success.

The members of the RETC would like to take this opportunity to thank the COM and the MQA for their commitment and support in making the learning material a reality.