Apprentice Program: Concrete actions to increase female participation in the mining industry

Apprentice Program: Concrete actions to increase female participation in the mining industry


This initiative aims to train quality human capital and build inclusive, heterogeneous teams with high participation rates by people from neighboring communities in the Tarapacá and Antofagasta regions.

Achieving gender equity through concrete action, promoting greater participation and retention of women is a priority at SQM. Diverse, heterogeneous teams contribute to organizational excellence, which promotes sustainable growth and impacts the company as well as society through job creation.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), female participation in the labor market fell from 51.4% in 2019 to 46.9% in 2020. According to estimates, the figure is expected to reach 49.1% in 2021, bringing it to levels similar to 2008, which is interpreted as a 10-year setback. Even under this scenario, which is primarily a result of the pandemic, 18% of the SQM workforce is female, representing over 1,000 people.

Bárbara Blümel, Deputy Manager of People at SQM, says that the company employs a strategy involving several concrete actions to reach this figure. One of these actions, the Apprentice Program, aims to increase community outreach and promote female participation in mining. This year, 40 people, 26% of whom are women, are participating in the initiative’s first year at the Carmen Lithium Chemical Plant in the Antofagasta Region. Sixteen young people, six of whom are women, are participating in the process, which is also underway at the Nueva Victoria site in the Tarapacá Region.

“The initiative is aligned with our Diversity and Inclusiveness Policy, which involves the different levels of the company and aims to generate equal opportunity in terms of attracting talent in order to bolster personal and professional development. The strategy is based on three pillars that aim to increase workforce participation of women, people from the communities surrounding our operations and people with disabilities,” noted the executive.

New challenges

The seventh edition of the Apprentice Program was launched in Salar del Carmen, adding female personnel in the operations areas and thereby building heterogeneous teams to address new challenges like implementing a new line at the lithium hydroxide plant in November.

Isabela Cabral, a 22-year-old student in her last year of the Mining Engineering program at Inacap, noted: “This program has instilled in all of us SQM culture and values, like safety, integrity and respect, which must always be applied, and sustainability, which the company considers in all its processes. Meeting these commitments makes us an organization of excellence, and I have grown professionally and personally with all this learning. I am very grateful for this opportunity. It opened the doors to the industry and provided ongoing, quality training.”

Camila Vera Ibarra, a 23-year-old apprentice, remarked, “The main reason for participating in this process is to learn and have new experiences related to operations at Carmen. And I think that teamwork is crucial to success. We must persevere and be attentive to all the knowledge they are going to share, and that is the key,” she noted.

The Nueva Victoria Iodine site implemented the program for the first time, inviting young people from surrounding towns, like Pozo Almonte, Alto Hospicio and Iquique to participate. Twenty-five percent of the participants are women.

One participant, Yamilette Mamani, highlighted the importance of the program, “I am taking a job as an apprentice operator of a high tonnage truck. The welcome process has gone really well. They have been really friendly and everything is well coordinated. It is great that they include women in the program. I want to be able to operate a truck soon.”

Twenty-year-old Carolina Moya, grateful for the opportunity SQM is giving her to get ahead as an apprentice operator, says, “The experience in these two months has been great. I have learned about each process in the Mining Operations area and, particularly, the CAE truck, which as a woman, I am proud to operate and put the skills I’ve learned through the program into practice.”

In 2020, the program was implemented in nearby Salar de Atacama towns like Toconao, Talabre, Socaire, Peine, Calama and San Pedro de Atacama. The fourth version of the program invited a total of 30 apprentices to work in the production area at the Salar site in the Antofagasta Region. The selection process is underway for the new edition of the initiative at the Carmen Chemical Plant. The 36 slots will focus on mechanics, industrial electronics and mechanical electronics to build the teams that will oversee the operation expansion tasks scheduled for 2022.



Building heterogeneous teams

Across different SQM sites, the seven versions of the Apprentice Program aim to create a space that draws the community in to encourage local hiring and inclusiveness in the Tarapacá and Antofagasta regions. With support from SQM work teams, program participants are trained to work in different operations areas with the possibility of being hired and building a career at the company under conditions of equal opportunity.

In 2022, the program was launched at the Carmen Lithium Chemical Plant. Following the success of the first version, a second invitation was issued.

Young people from several towns in Tarapacá (including Pozo Almonte, Iquique and Alto Hospicio) participate in the Nueva Victoria Apprentice Program.