As the current mining boom continues at full swing, it may be useful to take a quick look at where the 'skill hotspots' are at the moment. According to the Minerals Council of Australia, there are already trends emerging in some unexpected areas in that country. Sure, we know that most mining professionals are going to be, or are already, in very short supply because enrolments in engineering and geology degrees are at an all time low and declining right at a time when they need to be increasing.
This all comes as one of the world's largest mining economies heats up. Exploration budgets there are in full swing again so companies, particularly those exploring for base metals, are looking for exploration geologists and field assistants. They're in very short supply however, a situation that doesn't look like being rectified anytime soon given the dropping enrolments in geology degree courses.
Another growing area of demand is for underground mining engineers and other professionals with underground experience or training. The gold mining industry, a big user of these professionals, generally is looking towards underground operations as the availability of more readily accessible surface ore bodies diminishes. As gold mines ramp up production to meet growing demand, and others are brought out of mothballs, experienced mining engineers, geotechnicians, geologists and surveyors generally are becoming harder to find but those with underground experience are almost like hens teeth. There's also competition for the small available talent pool from a resurging nickel industry.
As a flow on, there is also now increasing demand for professionals in support and associated industries. The mineral processing sector is looking for more metallurgists and lab technicians. Electricians, boilermakers, mechanical fitters, diesel and heavy diesel fitters, and auto electricians are needed in increasing numbers to keep on top of plant and fleet maintenance. Some positions are also calling for experience with certain types of equipment – heavy diesel fitters with experience on CAT, Komatsu and Liebherr equipment for example are needed.
In and around the mines there are shortages happening too. Surprisingly, in view of the current trend towards automation, dump truck operators are in short supply in some areas. Or perhaps it's a case of potential operators being scared off by the thought of losing their job to a computer and finding alternative jobs! There's also a demand for all-round operators that have experience with a range of equipment including excavators, dozers and articulated dump trucks. More drill and process operators likewise are required as operations expand and ramp up production to meet increased targets. On the general workforce front, there is growing demand for experienced quarry workers, quarry managers, operations managers and superintendents, and for qualified construction trades people.
What are companies doing to attract these workers?
Most companies are snapping up suitable candidates as soon as they know they're available. They're also offering flexible rosters and attractive hourly rates in an attempt to attract more candidates. There are relocation packages and relocation allowances also available as companies try to entice qualified professionals from anywhere to take up available positions. You may also find that companies have increased base salaries or are offering innovative salary packages for various positions in which there are considerable shortages.
In areas where multiple new mines are being developed at the same time, it's putting added pressure on an already limited workforce. Western Australia for example needs thousands of construction workers for mining construction projects that are happening around the state. However, where a similar situation led to salary bidding wars last boom, that is unlikely to happen this time round. Companies will instead look to bring in workers from other states, or even overseas if necessary, to fill the gaps rather than competing for local workers demanding excessive amounts of money. These workers will initially be offered FIFO arrangements but ultimately, many mining companies are looking for people who want to relocate permanently. These types of workers are seen as being more committed to both their employer and the local community they move to than FIFO workers. It also reduces the company's growing legislative requirements to accept responsibility for, and deal appropriately with, some of the issues that come with the whole FIFO scene. We've touched on these in previous posts.