Survey: Eastern coalfields recruitment

WHO are we looking for, how long is it taking, where do we need them, where are they going to come from, and how old is our existing workforce? All key recruitment questions Downing Teal asks in its 2006 survey of open cut and underground coal mining operations on Australia’s east coast, published for the first time on International Longwall News.

Angie Tomlinson

Between February and April 2006 mining recruitment company Downing Teal, which has consultants positioned throughout Australia and North and South America, and alliance partners in Canada and South Africa, conducted the survey to ascertain key recruitment issues affecting the Australian coal industry.

In all, 40 mine sites responded to the survey in New South Wales and 13 in Queensland. The survey covered new projects and expansions, as well as existing operations, both open cut and underground.

The results for the NSW coalfields have been divided into four areas: Illawarra (covering the south coast and southern tablelands mines), Newcastle (covering all mines east of Maitland), Hunter/Northern (covering all mines in the lower and upper Hunter Valley as well as the Gloucester and Gunnedah basins), and Western (covering the western coalfields out to Mudgee). Almost all respondents in Queensland were situated in the Bowen Basin.

Figures were based on approximations given by key personnel onsite. Those contacted were generally mine managers and human resources managers.

Who are we looking for?

When asked what the hardest positions were to fill onsite at the present time, most expressed difficulty in finding suitably qualified and experienced mining engineers, closely followed by statutory management positions, such as deputy, undermanager, open-cut examiner and mine manager.

The difficulty in placing statutory staff was most acute in NSW due to state legislative requirements. Many also expressed difficulty in finding experienced operators and tradesmen, particularly electricians (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

How long is it taking to find people?

Respondents were asked to comment on how long, in general, it was taking to fill these positions. Many stated it was taking greater than two months to fill key positions. This was most apparent in the Hunter/Northern Coalfields and Queensland (see Figure 2).

When asked whether staff shortages were adversely affecting production, many recognised that they were, but many were not sure either way. This was most likely because staff shortages do not usually show up in production statistics; there may be a full compliment of shifts working but how effectively are they being utilised?

Figure 2

Where are we going to need people?

Respondents were asked to estimate how many new staff and workforce they anticipated taking on in the next 12 months. They were also asked how many graduates they planned on recruiting in the next 12 months.

The results showed the majority of new jobs were likely to be in Queensland and the Hunter Valley. This can be attributed to a higher turnover in the more remote operations and also the number of new projects going ahead.

Graduate intake appeared to be roughly proportionate to total workforce intake, possibly with increasing intake of fresh talent into the aging workforces in areas surrounding Sydney.

Figure 3

What is the age profile of our people?

The average age of staff and workforce was also stated. Queensland and Hunter/Northern operations have the youngest age profile, with mines close to the cities of Wollongong and Newcastle having the oldest age profile. This is to be expected, with employees opting for a more settled lifestyle as they get older (see Figure 4).

Figure 4

Where are we looking for people?

With a massive boom in mining activity, there are simply not enough qualified people to go around. This has made overseas recruitment essential. Most respondents stated they would look offshore for new professional staff.

The main issues cited in bringing people in from overseas were the lack of recognition of their qualifications, and to a lesser extent, language and cultural barriers. The cost and time involved in negotiating visas was also a concern.

When asked where new international recruits were likely to come from, it became clear the focus was still on traditional coal mining areas such as the United Kingdom and South Africa. Professionals were also being targeted in North America and New Zealand to a lesser extent. Countries where English is not the first language are generally not being targeted to the same extent (see Figure 5).

Figure 5

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