Short on skills

MINING contracting companies, like drilling and blasting specialists Brandrill, are feeling the pinch and are recruiting from Asia to quench the overbearing thirst for skilled labour that stems from a global resource boom.
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In situ measurement result with recovered bolt

Rebecca Lawson

The dearth of candidates to fill job vacancies arising from the boom times was illustrated by a recently released report from the National Institute of Labour Studies at Flinders University in Adelaide, which stated Australia's minerals industry would need an extra 70,000 new workers over the next decade to keep up with labour demand.

According to the report, Staffing the Supercycle: Labour Force Outlook in the Minerals Sector, 2005-2015, the country's coal mining industry will need an extra 16,000 new staff by 2015 to keep up with demand.

Brandrill human resource manager Michael Bennett said the skills shortage across the contracting sector was "pretty serious", with the problem rearing its ugly head over a year ago.

"It [skills shortage] has been happening for a while now, between 12 to 18 months ... we've had to put a hold on some projects because we haven't got enough [employees]," Bennett said.

Subsequently, the shortage is beginning to curb the company's growth and perhaps the issue is most evident in the significantly decreased amount of applicants applying for positions within the company.

"It's not uncommon for [Brandrill] to see one response to a job, whereas before we would have around 12 to 15 people apply," Bennett said.

Although the shortage is across the board in all divisions, Bennett said mechanical tradesmen were the hardest hit, with operators a little easier to find.

The company has also added a few more dollars to entice people to work for the company and in some instances it has worked, especially in retaining staff, but the problem lies in attracting new recruits to a seemingly never-ending global resource growth.

Although there is a decreased number of applicants applying for positions, employers still prefer quality over quantity when hiring.

"Hiring intentions for resources and mining companies remain very positive, while employers' focus has shifted to quality rather than quantity of recruits," according to recruitment specialist Hays Resources and Mining's September quarterly forecast.

Rather than compromise on the skills levels of certain occupations, Bennett said Brandrill had recently turned to the Asian region, in particular the Philippines, to import labour.

"If the person is not suitable for the job, then we go overseas and look for a suitable candidate," Bennett said.

Even though he gives a thumbs up to the state Governments that have slashed apprenticeship and traineeship times to tackle the shortage, he believes it is up to companies and both the state and federal governments to work hand-in-hand to try to find solutions to the shortage.

"We do have programs in place to recruit new employees and we are networking with government agencies [that] are helping, however we have had to import labour from overseas to tackle the issue," Bennett said.

When asked about whether there was an end in sight to the skills shortage, he said it was a bit like asking how long a piece of string is.

"It's very hard to say, perhaps within 12 months, but you just never know with these things," Bennett said.