The Women in Mining Education Foundation Promotes Careers in the Sector

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The Women in Mining Education Foundation (WIMEF) was established in 1992, with the aim of educating young women about careers available to them within t...

The Women in Mining Education Foundation (WIMEF) was established in 1992, with the aim of educating young women about careers available to them within the mining sector. Formed in association with Women in Mining (WIM) the foundation set out by participating in national science teachers’ conventions to educate students, teachers and the general public about the importance of minerals.

Nelson Mandela once famously said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” and WIMEF truly believes that by educating young people about the mining industry, not only can it give them opportunities for a well paid career and one that offers continued training, but it can also introduce new talent to mining and importantly encourage ‘young blood’ to enter the industry, which in WIMEF President, Arloa Woolford’s own words, has a “greying” expertise. As the foundation has grown so has its passion for educating people not only about careers available, but also about the importance of mining in general.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Arloa about the foundation as she prepares to end her tenure as President. Over the years, the foundation has achieved a great deal, from receiving formal awards to noticing a change in trends within the industry. Arloa is proud of what she and her small team of nine directors have achieved and graciously notes that the foundation is still in need of grants and donations to continue its good work. Today the foundation is a leader in mineral education in the US.

The focus has shifted in many ways from educating young women and giving them opportunities in the field, to a broader focus of driving skills back into the sector. Arloa herself is passionate about mining – having grown up in northern Nevada and working on mine sites – and wants more than anything for the sector to experience a resurgence of young interest.

“We need mining,” says Arloa. “Without mining there are no televisions, no cell phones, no cars and no clothes. Everything comes from a mine one way or another and a lot of people don’t understand that. One of our main goals is to educate youngsters about the role mining plays in our society – mining is not the bad kid on the block, its necessary for our needs of today and for the economy,” she says. The WIMEF motto is: “If it can't be grown, it has to be mined.”

By educating younger generations about the importance of mining, and by highlighting the wide variety of careers under its umbrella, the foundation believes that the skill shortage will be reversed and further, new ideas, innovations and concepts will come to the fore.

So how does the WIMEF encourage young women – and men – to consider a career in mining? “Firstly, the industry is a very well paying industry with good benefits,” says Arloa. “Employees are given training throughout their careers, but they are also given opportunities for travel, further education and advancement.”

Importantly, Arloa also stresses that the mining industry is in need of new faces – faces that can bring fresh ideas and skills to the table. Although the foundation has extended its reach and now educates men as well as women, Arloa is keen to emphasise that a woman can do every job from general management, to truck driving, electrics, welding and engineering. “We stress that everywhere we go,” she says.  

Spreading the word

In order to spread the word, WIMEF targets teachers, realizing that just one influential teachers can reach 30 plus children – the foundation can cast their net much wider and reach a lot more youngsters this way. Having said that, the foundation also runs workshops and short courses in schools, speaking directly to children.

In order to promote the message loud and clear, a number of activities have been created and developed with the aim of educating others about the importance of the minerals industry to our daily lives as well as our economy. “One of my proudest achievements is the development of our website,” says Arloa. “It has a lot of hands-on activities available to download, many of which are very simple and inexpensive. They are designed to teach people about earth science and mining. They are fun and engaging too; you can core-drill a cupcake and mine a chocolate chip cooking.” The foundation has gained accreditation for all its activities, which are now recognised and set to the national science standard.

Speaking of achievement, Arloa is also extremely proud of the fact that opinions in the industry are changing, in part down to the hard work and dedication of WIMEF. “Over the years we have changed the opinion of many people who had never been exposed to mining or earth science before. We are being asked to speak at more and more conferences and schools; more and more people are signing up to our courses. The message is getting out there,” she says.

Casting a wider net

As I have mentioned, young women are not the only ones to have benefitted from the WIMEF and its work. Government bodies and large mining companies have also begun using the tools created and distributed by the foundation. “Take the government agencies that regulate mining operations,” cites Arloa. “They need a solid understanding of earth science as well as the industry itself. Our activities have been used in training programs to bring new employees up to speed.”

Furthermore, a number of large mining corporations have incorporated the materials produced by WIMEF into their employee induction schemes. “Its all good and well giving a truck driver for example, the training to drive from A to B, but they need to know about the whole mining process – why they are out there doing their job everyday. Our training activities have been used to give everyone a broader understanding of the sector,” she says.

And this is not the only involvement large corporates have had with WIMEF. As Arloa explains, “A lot of companies are beginning to welcome schools to their mines after realizing the need for new talent in the field. To encourage this we have organised trip to large mine sites for school children and students.” The foundation is not only about educating youngsters, but about educating large corporates too.

And the foundation is dedicated to casting its net yet wider in the coming years, by introducing a student driven chapter to its ranks. Already with a presence in three universities, WIMEF wants to gain the support of more schools and promote more student ambassadors to spread the word and promote careers in the field.

Challenges still to overcome

Today, there are not as many challenges as their used to be in the mining industry regarding employment for women, however issues still exist. “You do see more women in top management jobs,” notes Arloa. “But often they work up so far and find it hard to break into the top ranks. Some do but only after a long struggle. It’s true, compared with 25 years ago you do see a lot more women in the industry and not just behind a desk; out on-site as well, however I still feel they have to work harder to prove themselves than a male in the same position; they have to give up more to climb the ladder.”

With that in mind, supporting and promoting women in mining is still high on the agenda at the foundation, and a core value that Arloa will be sure to pass on to her successor. She would also like to see the foundation continue to grow with the expansion of its website and online tools and with a greater presence on mining sites in the US.

Education is undoubtedly the root of prosperity and with organisations such as WIMEF working tirelessly to enlighten and inspire the youth of today, the mining industry is set to thrive for many years to come.

For more information in WIMEF or to make a donation visit their website.


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