SURIGAO CITY – A private sector group here has initiated a scholarship program to increase the limited pool of mining professionals now available within the Caraga region, which has some of the country’s richest mineral deposits.

Dulmar Raagas, president of the Chamber of Mines-Caraga Inc., said the objective was to develop a pool of competent mining engineers from within the region who would help ensure the sustainable management of the area’s mineral resources.

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Recently the Surigao-based Chamber of Mines-Caraga Inc. signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Mines and Geosciences Bureau (DENR-MGB) in Soccsksargen and St. Paul University-Surigao.

Under the agreement, the Chamber of Mines-Caraga will identify qualified local residents who are interested in enrolling in a five-year mining engineering course, which includes an environmental management component, with additional courses on environmental laws, contracts and ethics.

Participating mining companies will each sponsor at least two scholars a year, shouldering their tuition fees and miscellaneous expenses.

The scholars will be enrolled at St. Paul University-Surigao, which launched its Bachelor of Science program in mining engineering this year, becoming the first school in Mindanao to offer this degree.

“Through these scholarships, we will be able to address the lack of qualified professionals in the field while creating an army of dynamic environmental stewards,” Raagas said.

The Chamber is working in partnership with the DENR-MGB with support from USAID’s Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program to assist mining communities maximize the economic benefits they receive through Social Development and Management Programs (SDMPs) mandated by the 1995 Mining Act.

In 2009 the mining industry in Caraga employed approximately 9,200 workers (not including small-scale miners), of whom more than 6,200 were full-time employees, according to a report by the DENR-MGB.

Raagas noted that there are 32 mining companies operating in Surigao. Most of these companies have had to recruit engineers and geologists from Luzon and the Visayas, he said, because Mindanao lacks local graduates with the specialized skills needed by the industry.

The skills gap led the Chamber to meet with the DENR-MGB and the heads of colleges and universities in Surigao, to discuss the possibility of establishing a B.S. in Mining Engineering course within the region.

“The academic sector realized it needed to step in and educate industry stakeholders,” said Dr. Dulcemina Leva, St. Paul University’s vice president for academic services.

In response to this manpower need and opportunity to redirect employment to Mindanao, under its Workforce Preparation component, the GEM Program is supporting, through scholarship assistance, 15 students from Mindanao in their pursuit of BS in Mining Engineering Degrees.

According to Leva, 46 non-scholarship students have enrolled in the course, far exceeding the school’s initial projection of 15 enrollees.

By developing a pool of mining engineers in the region, Leva said Caraga will be better equipped to address environmental and social challenges in the local mining industry.

“We will be teaching not just the technical aspects but also the values needed for the graduates to work effectively in the field,” Leva added.

Engr. Robert Bacarro, dean of the university’s engineering department, said the school has requested the Commission on Higher Education to approve a curriculum component on corporate social responsibility in the mining industry.

The university will monitor the academic performance of the students and provide regular evaluation reports to the Chamber of Mines and DENR-MGB.

Raagas said the creation of the scholarship program reflects a “major paradigm shift” among mining companies operating in region.

“Mining companies now realize the importance of working with host communities to ensure mining operations that are sustainable and socially responsible,” Raagas added. (GEM)