AUSTRALIA must triple its intake of mining engineering students if it is to avert a looming skills shortage.
Enrolments have plummeted in recent years as the mining downturn has deterred people seeking careers in the industry.
But University of New South Wales head of mining engineering Associate Professor Paul Hagan says the sector, well known for its peaks and troughs, is again on the upswing and warns there will be a "disaster" without enough skilled workers.
"This is the sixth mining cycle I've been through, so I know what happens next.
Demand for jobs will soar but there won't be enough trained engineers to hire," Hagan says.
"Anyone enrolling now will be in top demand in three years - but students don't perceive it that way."
Professor Peter Knights, head of mining engineering at the University of Queensland, says there has been a 20 per cent drop in the number of university applicants across Australia that list mining engineering as their first study preference.
With mining opportunities increasing across Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia, he says there will be critical skills shortages by 2020.
"Across Australia, we might get 50 (mining engineering graduates) by the end of 2019," Knights says. "But that's about a third of what we will need."
Resources and Engineering Skills Alliance chief executive Phil de Courcey says, overall, the mining industry continues to offer strong employment prospects.
A Graduate Careers Australia study tracked job placements from 1982 to 2015 and shows mining engineers enjoy one of the best employability rates, with an employability index of 92.3 per cent over the 34-year period.
Eli Tam, 23, completed his mining engineering degree at university last year and is now undertaking work experience in a fly-in fly-out role while he seeks fulltime employment.
"I'm feeling pretty confident (of finding work)," Tam says.
"Mining is cyclical and we're at the bottom moving up, so (graduates) are going to start to be in very high demand."
This article first appeared in the Gold Coast Bulletin