People problems to hit Aussie minerals industry

THE Australian minerals industry will need an extra 70,000 workers over the next decade to meet the labour demand, but will face a “serious challenge” in securing the staff, a new report released yesterday has found.
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Staff Reporter

The Minerals Industry National Skills Shortage Strategy (NSSS) Working Party report said the country’s coal sector would need an extra 16,000 new staff by 2015.

“Australia is geographically well placed to take advantage of the coal supply shortage in East Asia,” the report said.

“Investment in coal mine capacity has increased dramatically, with increased production already coming onstream … semi-skilled workers dominate in the mining and processing of coal, while tradespersons play a large role in maintenance activities.”

The report found that the projected labour gaps are for tradespeople and semi-skilled workers, with 26,983 tradespeople and 22,058 extra semi-skilled workers required.

It also found an additional 7659 professionals would be required by the minerals sector over the next decade.

“While not as dramatic as the projected shortage of tradespersons and semi-skilled workers, this nevertheless poses a challenge to all stakeholders associated with the professions in the minerals sector, particularly in regard to the attraction and retention of students in mining engineering and science programs at tertiary level,” the report said.

The report, Staffing the Supercycle: Labour Force Outlook in the Minerals Sector, 2005-2015, said the bulk of jobs will be in iron ore-rich Western Australia but coal-rich Queensland will need an extra 15,000 workers and New South Wales would fall short by 5000.

NSSS chairman and Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA president Dr David Smith said the report provides a new insight into the issue of skills shortages.

“This study provides valuable indications about the extent of future jobs growth in the resources sector, during this historic phase of demand for Australia’s raw materials,” Smith said.

“It underlines the need for industry and Government to continue their efforts to skill and upskill Australians, to take full advantage of the economic strength in the minerals sector.”

Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitchell H Hooke said the projected demand for labour reinforces the need for a vigorous multi-faceted response.

“As this report highlights, we are not just looking at a skills shortage, but in fact a people shortage.”

“There’s no room for complacency given the anticipated demand for labour,” Hooke said.

The report was optimistic about meeting the 2015 target, and suggested innovative strategies to attract Australian workers to the industry.

To attract, train and retain workers the report recommended that more apprenticeship and traineeship opportunities be made available as well as promoting university collaboration in the delivery of minerals related undergraduate and post-graduate courses.

New labour reservoirs also need to be identified and targeted to fill the labour gaps.

In the male dominated mining industry, women are seen as an alternative labour pool and the report recommended family friendly policies, and changing the traditionally “masculine culture” associated with mining in order to attract more women.

“Another labour reservoir lies in the rural, regional and remote communities, including Indigenous communities, in close proximity to many of the mine sites.”

Importing skilled employees from the United Kingdom, South Africa, New Zealand and Asia was not ruled out, but should not replace growing the workforce locally, the report said.

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