Engineering students at the University of Wollongong (UOW) are receiving safety training that qualifies them to work in underground coal mines, further boosting their employment prospects when they graduate.

NSW Smart and Skilled, in partnership with Coal Services Southern Mines Rescue Station and with the industry support from South32 Illawarra Coal, is providing more than $150,000 in funding to deliver the Underground Coal Induction to 100 undergraduate students.

The qualification is a compulsory entry-level requirement for employment in the underground coal industry in NSW and would normally cost students $1,350 to attain.

The training takes place in Coal Services’ cinema-like virtual reality room. The room houses a 360-degree screen that is 10 metres in diameter and four metres high and uses 12 cameras to project 3D images with full surround sound.

Students or miners can enter the room and experience simulated explosions, gas leaks or routine safety inspections.

The immersive, virtual coal mine is as close as a person can get to being in a mine without entering a shaft.

Mining Engineering Lecturer, Justine Calleja, said the induction will give UOW students an enormous advantage over other mining engineering students in getting work experience and graduate jobs.

“It’s particularly valuable for undergraduate engineers who obtain the highest quality technical and professional engineering skills through their studies at university, but who also need entry-level vocational skills to be able to practice in industry during undergraduate industrial training and as graduate engineers,” she said.

“The induction will help students gain a better understanding of engineering in practice in the mining industry and the practical application of what they are learning throughout their degrees.

“The students will be able to include the qualification on their resumes to demonstrate their initiative and motivation to pursue a career in industry.

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NSW Smart and Skilled provides government funding for Vocational Education and Training to help people in NSW get the skills they need to find a job and advance their careers.

The Federal Government’s Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) ranked UOW in 2016 as one of the best university in New South Wales and the ACT for engineering.

Nathan French, a fourth year Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) student said the opportunity to do the underground coal mine induction gave him the vital experience employers are looking for in a competitive job market.

“The leg-up I got from this course definitely helped me get my dream graduate job with Thiess, starting next year.

“The underground induction course wasn’t something I was able to do without the grant as it usually costs $1,350 for the four days and when I look back at my time at uni I don’t think I ever had that much money during my studies!

Nathan said the course added practical skills to the theory and knowledge learned through his degree.

“As well as getting the necessary experience to get into industry we also learned about key safety procedures that save lives,” he said.

“It was really great to combine things I’ve learnt at uni with the practical experience learned during the course in challenging situations that require quick thinking.

“In my opinion, the underground induction course should be compulsory for every mining engineering student.”

Originally Published on UOW Newsroom.