Professional society the Geological Society of South Africa (GSSA) has started a variety of initiatives to impart scientific knowledge and an understanding of geology to personnel in the industry and the general public, says GSSA executive manager Dr Craig Smith.
He says that all initiatives are geared towards achieving the society’s aim of promoting the study of earth sciences and safeguarding the interests of earth scientists by providing forums and events where geologists and members from related disciplines can meet and share ideas, discuss advances in the science, emerging technology and new geological models.
Smith explains that there has also been significant public interest in geology and the GSSA, in conjunction with the Origins Centre at the University of the Witwatersrand, has initiated a series of public lectures on geological topics. The society is also currently engaged with the tourism sector to assist its per- sonnel in understanding the basics of geology so that they are able to accu- rately promote geology to tourists who visit local geology heritage sites.
“South Africa possesses some of the most outstanding natural heritage sites in the world and many of them have been accorded World Heritage status. Preserving heritage sites in South Africa is also becoming more important and, in order to make them available to students and the general public, the GSSA has initiated its Geoheritage Project,” he says.
The Geoheritage Project has evolved from the GSSA’s geoconservation committees and has ranged from the preservation of, and the education about, specific sites to involvement in the establishment of World Heritage sites. “The society’s long-term strategy, which is still being formulated, will include elements of outreach education, making information available to the public, assisting tourism operators and prioritising those projects where the society and its branches and divisions can provide the most valuable input,” he adds.
The GSSA is also actively involved in dealing with challenges facing its members and the geology profession. One of the key challenges is the current global skills shortage.
“Although there are large numbers of young graduates entering the field, they do not have the necessary experience to replace senior geologists who are reaching retirement age,” he says.
He explains that the number of geoscientists at mid- to senior level is not equivalent to the number of senior geoscientists reaching retirement age; therefore, it is a significant challenge to replace the skills leaving the industry and to train young professionals to take over these positions in a short space of time. “To bridge the skills shortage gap, a geologist needs to have significant experience in the commodity or area where he or she is deemed competent,” he says.
However, Smith says that the society’s professional devel- opment initiative is geared towards dealing with this issue. “The GSSA hosts a range of courses throughout the year based on topical issues that geologists encounter every day, because continuing development is imperative for both young geologists and industry heads. Newly qualified graduates need to understand that a university degree is a ticket to continue learning in order to acquire the necessary experience in the industry,” he adds.
Smith believes that another contributing factor to the skills shortage is that employment at large mining houses is diminishing owing to downsizing and outsourcing of technical support. This is possibly the reason for the increase in the number of consultancies, which are hiring employees but do not necessarily have the capacity to establish major training programmes, he adds.
The GSSA is a nonprofit organisation, which was formed more than a century ago. It is one of the oldest professional societies in the country and currently has about 2 600 members and 15 branches and divisions located at geographical regions throughout South Africa. The society publishes the South African Journal of Geology, which is a fully fledged scientific journal, and provides the important func- tion of ensuring that peer- reviewed papers of international standard relevant to Southern African earth sciences are published.