​Mining Professionals And The Thorny Issue Of Relocation

For many mining professionals, the concept of relocating to residential areas close to mine sites is becoming a question of not 'when', but 'if'. Where once it was generally taken for granted that if one wanted a job in the mining industry, one needed to be prepared to relocate if necessary, that's not so much the case any more. Mining professionals know they're in short supply. They know they hold most of the bargaining cards and if that means opting for a FIFO package, or holding out for remote working, so be it. If one company doesn't accede to their demands, the next one may. And at the moment, as the next boom starts to hit its straps, there is invariably a 'next one' waiting.

Take Kalgoorlie, one of the most famous mining towns in the world. A town with many benefits to offer residents. A town that many people grow to love once they've relocated there. And miss when their tour of duty ends and they return from whence they came, or move on to the next location. Yet as at the end of September this year (2018), there were some 1000 jobs on offer in the town across mining, allied industries, and in general. But they're having trouble filling them because no one wants to move there. Not even the lucrative salaries on offer, particularly in the mining sector, are enough of an inducement.

So what is a town, and a company, to do when they need staff, and no one is taking up the offers? In some places the government bodies are stepping in and offering incentives. The Northern Territory government in Australia for example is doing this. It's part of a 10-year growth strategy aimed at bringing more people to live and work in the state. However, officialdom in Kalgoorlie believes that the amount people are being offered salary wise for some of these jobs should be incentive enough! Are they right though? 

Statistics like these indicate that around three quarters of workers would prefer to work for a company that allows them flexibility when it comes to their working arrangements, and that they don't need much financial inducement at all to do so. In some cases people may prefer to remain in major metropolitan areas and work remotely. In other cases, they may insist on flexible working arrangements such as input into rosters, results-based rather than time-based performance, additional training etc. Companies that can't offer these are going to increasingly get overlooked as preferred employers. Regardless of the financial incentives on offer. 

We touched on today's workplace expectations in a previous article but what it boils down to is that young professionals these days are looking for more than just a big pay cheque. They want job satisfaction, life quality, opportunities for personal and professional development, and a flexible workplace. Many clearly feel they're not going to get these if they relocate, particularly to regional areas or overseas to developing countries.

Given that there is plenty of competition for professionals in IT, engineering, finance, and even administration, mining companies need to up the ante if they want to attract the quality of professional they require and entice those professionals into relocating. Because, whilst surveys have found that salary is one of the things that swings a person's decision to take up a mining career, or opt to work in the mining industry rather than elsewhere, it's not the be all and end all it once was. 

What Puts Professionals Off Relocating?

The major issues deterring relocation to regional areas include:

  • ​limited services and infrastructure
  • inadequate housing – quantity, quality, and climatically appropriate. Lack of tradies makes maintenance expensive and difficult to source
  • poor or inadequate health services
  • lack of recreational and leisure activities
  • fewer lifestyle and cultural options
  • limited educational options, particularly secondary eduction
  • limited opportunities for professional advancement and training
  • irregular seasonal employment opportunities

Certainly mining companies can do things to encourage professionals to relocate but they can't do it alone. It requires co-operation between governments of all levels, local industries, and the communities themselves. The target communities need to be seen, and promoted, as places where employment, social, and cultural opportunities abound, where there are adequate support systems and infrastructure in place, and where newcomers are made feel welcome and included in the community.

Policies that are working to attract new employees to some regions include incentives like:

  • ​Allowing people to 'get a taste' of what it's like to live and work in a particular area before they actually move there. A mining company could for instance allow an employee to do several roster swings as a FIFO worker living in the town in order to get a 'feel' for the community. Or they could offer them the opportunity to complete a short contract on location. This is a policy that is proving successful in several sectors, notably medicine, because quite often many of the myths that surround living in remote communities is blown wide open once someone has had firsthand experience of actually living there. 
  • Quality and affordability of housing is another driving influence that affects the willingness of professionals to move to regional areas for work. Therefore ensuring availability of adequate, climatically appropriate, well-maintained, affordable housing for employees and their families needs to be a number one priority for mining companies that want to temp professionals to relocate
  • Collaborating with local communities and community groups to promote initiatives like sponsoring and attracting cultural activities and events to the area is another way in which mining companies can work towards making a town or regional area more attractive for mining professionals and their families.
  • Some of the most successful remote regional centres around the world are also surrounded by environmental features that are themselves tourist attractions. Or could be developed as such. Getting involved in the promotion of these natural assets, like amazing scenery or ancient natural structures, to bring in tourism and its associated industries goes a long way towards increasing the vibrancy and economic diversity of an area. It will attract more non-mining dependent industries to town, resulting in increased employment opportunities for spouses, partners and families of mining professionals. The increase in visitors to town can further engender a sense of community pride, which gets reflected in the care, and maintenance, of community assets and buildings. An attractive well-maintained town is much more appealing to relocating families than one which has been allowed to get run down.
  • Ensuring that wherever possible they utilise local businesses and services further helps ensure economic vibrancy, with a flow on in increased employment opportunities for mining family members.
  • Working with local community groups and governments to improve basic amenities like health and education services, infrastructure, recreational facilities and the like. Not only does the absence or scarcity of these deter professionals from relocating but those that do relocate put additional pressure on existing amenities and infrastructure.
  • Promoting relocations as opportunities to pick up unique and diverse career / work experiences, not just for the employee but also for their families.
  • Promoting the company's own image as an 'employer of choice' ie
    • offers work place flexibility,
    • supports professional advancement,
    • works with local communities to improve the lot not only of their own employees but also of the community as a whole,
    • has environmentally friendly and sustainable work practices and ethics,
    • co-operates with local authorities around issues that affect the well-being of the community and its natural environment,
    • provides a safe and user-friendly workplace,
    • has adequate support structures in place for relocating families,
    • is prepared to subsidise, as required, relocations (in both directions) and even housing costs.


And so on. In other words, has taken the time to ensure they have social license to operate and provides a high level of support for their staff.

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Tuesday, 07 July 2020
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