Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society

Aikerim Orken

Department / group: School of Geography and Sustainable Development
Personal URL:
Google Scholar URL:

Research interests:

Career history:

Active research projects:

PhD in Sustainable Development. Project title: "Enhancing the sustainability of the primary resource sector: an interdisciplinary analysis of the extractive industry in Kazakhstan". The research project focuses on exploring individual and wider structural-level barriers and bridges to occupational mobility in the extractive sector of Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is an upper-middle-income country in Central Asia. The extractive sector has been a crucial driver of Kazakhstan’s economic growth, with the country’s vast reserves of minerals and energy resources fuelling its rapid development (Sarsenov, Ilyas; Aldiyarov, 2017; OECD, 2018; The World Bank Group, 2023). It is one of the 10 leading countries for mineral reserves and a major producer and exporter of fossil fuels – the world’s 9th-largest exporter of coal and crude oil and 12th of natural gas (Kazakhstan Stock Exchange, 2019).

Human capital in the extractive sector is often overlooked by researchers, as the nature of the sector traditionally is more capital intensive. Overall, it is estimated that the mining and quarrying sector in Kazakhstan employed a total of 190,859 individuals in 2021 representing about 2.5% of the total workforce (The Bureau of National Statistics of the Republic of Kazakhstan, 2022), a figure that closely aligns with the size of the Australian mining workforce (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2022). Even though the extractive industry in Kazakhstan employs only 2.5% of the national workforce, it contributes over 30% to the national GDP (The Bureau of National Statistics of the Republic of Kazakhstan, 2022) .
In the first part of this study the issue of the skills shortage in the extractive sector of Kazakhstan, primarily voiced by employers and state officials, has been addressed. It has been shown that corroborating such statements proves challenging for several reasons, but most importantly, the existing data presents a perspective divergent from employers’ and state’s narratives. It suggests the absence of long-lasting serious labour shortages, and potentially the existence of short-term labor shortages among highly skilled workers, a phenomenon typically attributed to inherent frictions within the labour market. Addressing such shortages typically involves investments in education, training and enhancement of incentives to attract individuals to these career pathways, including improved working conditions, high salaries, and better career prospects.
Insights gained from the second part of this study on the determinants of occupation progression and mobility suggest two key observations. Firstly, as evidenced by the hiring and promotion practices the extractive sector operates under a meritocratic logic concerning the allocation and distribution of opportunities. Secondly, this inevitably creates inequalities by narrowing the access to better jobs to only a few groups. Emerging meritocratic inequalities, in turn, are difficult to overcome, and it is particularly challenging for unskilled or medium-skilled workers.
The third part of this study is going to delve into addressing how this logic is shaped through the practices and strategies utilized by different stakeholders – employers, employees, and policymakers. Consequently, the discussion on the implications for the sustainable development of the industry and the region at large opens a door for further debates on the future of the extractive industries worldwide.

Recent publications:

© 2023 | Proudly crafted by Academic Digital