Yet another skills warning

THE Minerals Council of Australia is again warning of a skills shortage, in part due to low levels of enrolments in engineering and geology degrees caused by the predictable boom-and-bust resources cycle, and the latest figures are already showing signs of stress in the jobs market.
Yet another skills warning Yet another skills warning Yet another skills warning Yet another skills warning Yet another skills warning

Geologists are again in demand, Hays says.

Haydn Black

Reporter

The latest Hays recruitment survey for the first half of 2019 shows those at the front end of the upswing, exploration geologists, top the list for missing skills.
 
"Given recent exploration spending, we continue to see high demand for available exploration geologists and field assistants. However, these candidates are in increasingly short supply. Demand is particularly high from companies looking for base metals as this remains a key focus in the local market," Hays recorded.
 
Also in demand are mining engineers, and maintenance professionals including fitters, boilermakers and electricians - with the latter trio being far more mobile across multiple sectors of the economy,
 
Using mining engineers as an example of the exacerbating skills shortages, the MCA says the moving average trend for university completions from 2017 to 2020 is expected to decline by 81% while labour demand is expected to decline by only 13% in the same period. 
 
Drilling down into the individual states, Hays says the Western Australian resources sector is heating up, with $1 billion worth of investment, in the form of new projects and mine expansions, in the pipeline, primarily iron ore, gold and lithium, with the potential for new LNG developments in the early 2020s.
 
While this is positive news for the industry as a whole, the high levels of activity are draining the supply of skilled professionals once more and the WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy predicts 20,000 local jobs to be created next financial year, with the Pilbara the hotspot, meaning that staffing demand will only trend upwards.
 
BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group are all building new Pilbara iron ore mines at the same time, which together require thousands of construction workers in Western Australia, the pressure is on to attract top talent.
 
"Unlike the last boom however, where bidding wars led to inflated salaries, this time employers are unlikely to compete for staff based on salary alone," Hays said.
 
Hays noted employers are offering higher hourly rates and flexible rosters to attract candidates. 
 
Employers are offering fly-in/fly-out arrangements to east coast-based workers as a stop-gap, but they prefer to attract skilled workers - and their families - who want to relocate to WA long-term - because they are seen as more committed to their jobs. 
 
It flagged a particular pressure point in the shortage of underground mining engineers, because large numbers of the state's critical gold mines are increasingly going underground, while nickel mines are again becoming viable. 
 
Candidates with solid experience will remain in very high demand during the first half of 2019 - and the supply for underground mining engineers has never been deep.
 
Also in demand are drill and blast operators and heavy diesel fitters, with the mining industry increasingly looking at adjacent sectors like agriculture to poach workers, or seek skilled employees from overseas.
 
Likewise, Queensland has seen a resurgence over the past year, particularly for mining and geotechnical engineers, geologists and underground surveyors, and mineral processing roles, including metallurgists and lab technicians.
 
"The rise of the mining industry across coal and mineral processing combined with the skills shortage means there are strong opportunities in Queensland for suitably qualified candidates."
 
Hays also noted a big call for trades such as mechanical fitters, boilermakers and electricians as maintenance needs are in overdrive.
 
The other states and territories have their own specific needs, such as electrical engineers in South Australia to work on new renewable-heavy power systems; refrigeration technicians and non-destructive testing technicians in the Northern Territory. 
 
Geologist, truck drivers and other blue collar trades are generally in demand across the nation, and the mining sector needs to compete with other sectors offering attractive wages and conditions.