Is Precious Metals a Good Career Path?
In the real world, precious metals are extracted and turned into everyday objects, making it a good career path for those interested in chemistry, geology, or engineering. From electronics to engagement rings, the precious metals industry offers a wide array of possible careers to choose from.
Precious metals are naturally occurring metallic elements that are extracted, refined, and traded for consumption. Some precious metals include gold, silver, palladium, and platinum. They are not to be confused with base metals, such as copper, lead, nickel, and aluminum, which are more commonly found and significantly lower in value. In an ever-changing economic landscape affected by geopolitics and new technologies, the precious metals industry remains a stable one, making it an attractive career path for many people.
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Best Jobs in the Precious Metals Field
Since precious metals are highly valuable – it is important that they are handled and refined well when found. Many professionals are needed to turn these elements into what most of us see on shelves.
Mining Engineers are responsible for the design and flow of the mining operations. Their roles may also expand into overseeing personnel and ensuring that the mine is compliant with all safety protocols.
Mining engineers take an undergraduate engineering degree, after which they must take their first comprehensive exam. After acquiring several years of experience, they take their second competency exam, and only then can they be called licensed engineers, also known as professional engineers (PEs). Being a PE is proof of experience and capability to employers, which can be especially important for mining companies. PEs in the mining industry also acquire Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) certifications for the overall safety of the work environment.
Geologists are critical in the precious metals industry as they are the ones who conduct research on possible mining locations to identify mineral deposits and assess the viability of mining projects. Also known as environmental professionals or geoscientists, geologists also aim to ensure as minimal effects on the environment as possible.
The American Geosciences Institute identifies the eligible majors that can take the qualifying exam for licensure. Typically a minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required, but certain states allow qualification as long as the applicant has accomplished a specific number of credits. A license or certification for professional geologists is a big advantage for those who are seeking positions that may need to sign official government documents.
Once the raw metals are extracted properly from the earth, they are sent to refineries, where refinery workers operate the right equipment to recover the specific element in its purest form. The process of the refinery goes through many levels to reach the final product, and the job requires physical strength and endurance.
Most refineries welcome workers with a GED or high school diploma and let them learn about the operations through the job. However, refineries follow strict health and safety regulations to ensure the safety of the employees. Most will be required to certify in Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response, as well as take Occupational and Health Administration training.
There is also a place for creatives in the precious metals industry. Jewelry Designers conceptualize and create designs for precious metal jewelry. The right design and concept may land pieces in magazines, runways, or movies, making the job lucrative and interesting at the same time.
However, the job requires more than being able to mix and match precious stones and metals together. Jewelry designers usually acquire a bachelor’s or associate degree in jewelry design, as well as certifications from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), the leading authority on precious gems in the world. Their courses range from graduate jeweler programs to applied professional programs. Experience in using design software is also a plus for those interested in the profession.
Within refineries, metallurgists specialize in knowing the characteristics and properties of the metals they work with as it is being processed. They test and monitor the condition of metal alloys under different conditions so they can determine which ones can be used. They can also help optimize product designs for efficiency and less operational costs.
Most metallurgists take up a bachelor’s or master’s in metallurgical engineering. As with other PE requirements, they need experience and complete comprehensive exams as they go down this career path. The Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (SME) also offers other professional development courses so engineers can keep up with the changes in the field.
Assayers are in charge of testing and analyzing the quality of precious metals to determine their properties and value. This role is important especially at the beginning of a mining project, as they can assess the viability of a location from a sample before companies invest and begin with the mining operation.
Bullion Dealers on the other hand are businesses that buy and sell precious metals, mostly gold and silver. Gold is considered a “safe investment,” and so bullion, which can come in the form of bars, ingots, plates, or coins, can be a lucrative profession for those interested. However, bullion dealers are covered by specific laws all over the world and must follow guidelines on limits and trading.
Those interested in becoming an assayer usually come from the field of Chemistry or related sciences, and get certification from the American Society for Testing and Materials. On-the-job training and eventual experience with equipment and techniques add notches to assayers’ belts. For bullion dealers, they have to take the Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) exam, as well as follow other regulations to maintain their licenses.
Why You Should Get a Job in Precious Metals
Compensation in the industry varies on the position and specific field, as well as company size, but in general, a job in the precious metals industry can range from anywhere between $40,000 to $150,000 a year. The stability of the industry is a good factor in considering a career in it.
Opportunities and Compensation
Mining engineers, depending on position and experience, can expect a salary of $80,000 to $150,000 per year, while geologists and metallurgists earn around the same amount of $60,000 to $120,000 a year.
Starting refinery workers, assayers, and jewelry designers can expect annual compensation of around $40,000 and an eventual increase of up to $80,000 with training and experience. Bullion dealers, on the other hand, can expect up to as much as $150,000 a year, which also heavily depends on the value of their products and other factors.
As with every other industry, the health and outlook of the precious metals industry depend on major factors such as economic conditions, technological advancements, and more recently environmental regulations.
Industry stakeholders can expect a growing demand for precious metals due to increased industrial and industrial applications. For investors, precious metals remain a safe choice with their almost consistently growing value. Technology and its new products will also continue to depend on some precious metals for parts.
Environmental regulations call for the reduction of the environmental impacts of mining. Engineers and geologists work together in designing more environment-friendly mines that reduce waste generation and carbon emissions without putting operations on hold.
A Career as Precious and Malleable as Gold
The precious metals industry requires many professionals to take a piece of gold from a small nugget to a wedding ring. It adapts to the needs of its market, all while knowing its value as a limited resource material. While it heavily depends on factors such as economic factors and local environmental regulations, we can expect the industry to continue to grow over the years and provide stable careers for those who work in it.
A bachelor’s degree is a good foundation for most of the careers in the industry. But the industry also allows space for those with lower educational attainments. Whatever your starting position may be, character and attitude towards your chosen work are still a bigger factor in shaping your career. Continuing knowledge and professional development will make you precious to employers while being able to adapt to any situation will move you forward faster than you expect.
Sarah is an accomplished educator, researcher and author in the field of testing and assessment. She has worked with various educational institutions and organisations to develop innovative evaluation methods and enhance student learning. Sarah has published numerous articles and books on assessment and learning. Her passion for promoting equity and fairness in the education system fuels her commitment to sharing insights and best practices with educators and policymakers around the world.