Mined out: Australia’s skills shortage – by Chris Lo (Mining Technology.com – February 6, 2012)


A skills shortfall is putting the Australian mining industry’s ability to meet its production commitments in doubt. Chris Lo looks at the roots of Australia’s labour crisis and asks how the country can create a new generation of mining professionals.

Being located close to Asia’s emerging economic powerhouses has been a blessing for Australia’s mining industry. As increasingly confident economies like China and India look abroad for raw materials to feed an unprecedented number of construction and infrastructure projects, Australia’s immense mineral resources are exceedingly well placed to meet the demand.

The Australian mining sector’s strategic position is reflected in the number of projects and the amount of investment springing up in the country.

The Australian reported in early 2010 that while no mining project valued at more than A$10 billion came online in the first decade of the 21st century, six of these mega-projects are in development today, with a total value of more than A$150 billion.

Good news? Certainly. But a latent shortage of skilled workers in the Australian resources industry is raising significant concerns about the country’s capacity to see its mining commitments through. BHP Billiton stated in September 2011 that an extra 150,000 mining workers will be required by the Australian mining industry over the next five years.

Even without considering the upsurge of mining development, a lack of qualified workers is already having an effect on the day-to-day operations of mining projects even now.

In its recently released quarterly report for Q4 2011, New South Wales-based coal producer Whitehaven Coal admitted that its operation at Narrabri “continues to experience difficulty in recruiting sufficient experienced underground miners and contractors to fully utilise its four development units”.

Labour crises of this kind, especially ones that occur in sectors of national economic importance, blur the lines between industry and governmental responsibility. So who is responsible for injecting some extra manpower into Australian mining, and how can it be accomplished?

Mining recruitment: what’s the problem?
With the global recession still showing its fangs across the world and unemployment rates remaining high in many regions, the labour shortage in the mining sector cannot simply be a matter of a lack of warm bodies.

The mining industry does not lack for prospective recruits, but it is finding workers with the right skills and experience for complex mining and engineering jobs that is proving to be the primary difficulty.

Like many traditional industries in the developed world, the Australian mining sector is struggling to build a new generation of skilled and semi-skilled workers to replace the post World War II baby boomer workforce that is now approaching or already past the retirement age.

According to a recent article by Australian mining engineer and industry blogger Jamie Ross, new engineering graduates are also experiencing a vicious cycle as they are unable to find work without relevant experience, which is impossible to garner without the opportunity to get a foot in the mining industry’s door.

As Ross puts it: “So many advertisements for mining engineers, so few opportunities for those without experience.”

For the rest of this article, please go to the Mining Technology.com website: http://www.mining-technology.com/features/featuremined-out-australias-skills-shortage/

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