Australian Mining Companies Facing Critical Skills ShortagesAustralian Mining Companies Facing Critical Skills Shortages

A new report released by the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) paints a grim picture for Australian mining companies. Plagued with skills shortages in professional, skilled and semi-skilled professions, mining companies have no choice but to source candidates from overseas. Wages for workers with professional qualifications and experience in engineering, geosciences and civil construction are enjoying rates much higher than in other parts of the world.

The research in the Opportunity at risk: Regaining our competitive edge in minerals resources report identifies two main reasons why the Australian workforce has not been able to meet the demand for skilled workers.

Record low unemployment

Some of the most critical mining jobs cannot be filled by the current Australian workforce. Unemployment rates in mining regions are only 2% to 3%; mining engineers, geologists, technicians, metallurgists and workers with related skills are already employed.

Australia has enjoyed a mining boom for the past several years. While mining operations are working at capacity, nearly 100 new projects are in the advanced stages of development. Representing $260 billion in capital expenditure, these new projects are putting extreme pressure on employers to find skilled workers in a labour market that’s already depleted its talent.

Universities struggling with demand

Universities cannot keep up with industry demand. According to the MCA report,

“New graduates in geoscience between 2010 and 2015 are forecast to meet less than 20% of new and replacement demand. In mining engineering, the figure is 40%.”

It’s not just professional skills in short supply; key trades are also experiencing acute shortages.

“Between 2005 and 2010, for example, supply of newly qualified electrical and telecommunications tradespeople was only 55% of new job growth before replacement.”

Australian universities are graduating new professionals and training organisations are deploying skilled tradesmen as quickly as possible. Both industry and government are supporting programs to reform occupational licensing. Complementary industries such as manufacturing are being targeted to help reskill workers for the resources industry. Up skilling, training and retraining programs are underway with state and federal government support. These measures, while positive and necessary for the health of the long-term workforce, do not address the immediate need.


Temporary skilled migration

The fields of engineering, geology and metallurgy are already relying on immigration to meet demand. Most recently, workers with civil construction experience are also being encouraged to consider temporary skilled migration to Australia.

“In mining engineering, temporary migration visas outstripped university graduations by more than 2 to 1 between 2006 and 2010,” explains the MCA report. “In geosciences the ratio was more than 4 to 1. Over 50% of the skilled engineering labour force is estimated to be overseas migrants.”

No upper age limit for temporary work visas

To encourage experienced workers, the Australian government has no age ceiling for people coming to Australia to work. Business visas are granted for up to four years from date of approval. Anyone working in Australia on a migrant visa must be paid Australian industry market rates, or higher.

By Moag Jey