A SKILLS REV­O­LU­TION

Growth has re­turned to min­ing, with de­mand for work­ers once again ris­ing as new or moth­balled op­er­a­tions are given the green light, and ex­ist­ing mines ex­pand. But how will the in­dus­try cope as labour de­mand ex­ceeds sup­ply?

The Australian Mining Review - - CONTENTS - EL­IZ­A­BETH FABRI

TEN years ago, get­ting a job in the re­sources sec­tor looked a lit­tle dif­fer­ent.

Dump truck tick­ets and other driver-op­er­a­tor skills were in high de­mand; the work was tough, but for those lucky enough to land a gig, a lu­cra­tive wage would await them.

Then came the down­turn – ev­ery­body felt the sting – with many skilled work­ers leav­ing the in­dus­try for good dur­ing a jobs drain.

But com­mod­ity prices have now re­cov­ered, and a con­struc­tion boom has re­turned, mean­ing com­pa­nies were now look­ing for per­son­nel to build and op­er­ate the next wave of projects.

In the WA Pil­bara, Pil­bara Min­er­als and Al­tura Min­ing’s iden­ti­cally named Pil­gan­goora lithium mines have just en­tered pro­duc­tion, while iron ore gi­ants BHP, FMG and Rio Tinto are gear­ing up to build three new projects worth a com­bined $9 bil­lion – with 4000 jobs ready to be filled through the con­struc­tion phase.

But where will these work­ers come from? That is the ques­tion many are ask­ing, as com­pe­ti­tion runs high to se­cure the ser­vices of a de­pleted pool of skilled work­ers and top tier con­trac­tors.

The types of roles re­quired to de­velop and op­er­ate the ‘ dig­i­tal’ mines of to­mor­row have also changed with a new suite of skills needed.

Three storey high dump trucks – once op­er­ated by the ea­ger green skin – were now driv­ing them­selves around many of Aus­tralia’s iron ore mines, while the op­er­a­tors sit in air-con­di­tioned of­fices thou­sands of kilo­me­tres away.

Min­ing staff were also ex­pected to have the skills to op­er­ate new tech­nolo­gies such as drones, wear­ables, and other au­to­mated de­vices em­ployed in both open pit and un­der­ground op­er­a­tions.

Fed­eral Jobs and In­no­va­tion min­is­ter Michaelia Cash said in the two years to May 2018, em­ploy­ment in the min­ing in­dus­try in­creased na­tion­ally by 16,700 or 7.7 per cent.

“Re­cruiters and min­ers are of­ten look­ing for staff with ex­pe­ri­ence in spe­cialised equip­ment and sys­tems,” Ms Cash said.

Ac­cord­ing to Hays, jobs in de­mand in­cluded ge­ol­o­gists, main­te­nance plan­ners, drill and blast op­er­a­tors, heavy diesel fit­ters, dragline and ex­ca­va­tor op­er­a­tors, com­puter nu­meric con­trolled ma­chin­ists, boil­er­mak­ers, and un­der­ground jumbo op­er­a­tors.

Aus­tralian Mines and Met­als As­so­ci­a­tion (AMMA) head of pol­icy and pub­lic af­fairs Tom Reid said the rise in va­can­cies was “show­ing no signs of sub­sid­ing”.

“The news is pos­i­tive for job prospects in the sec­tor,” Mr Reid said.

“QLD and WA re­main the hotspots for em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, with year-on-year growth in va­can­cies between 30 and 40 per cent.

“In most re­cent months, the big­gest oc­cu­pa­tional growth has been in op­er­a­tional man­age­ment, with the sub sec­tors of metal ore min­ing, and coal and min­eral min­ing, show­ing large growth.

“We are also see­ing great de­mand for labour in more re­gional ar­eas, in par­tic­u­lar skills short­ages in the Kal­go­or­lie Gold­fields.

“It is an ex­cit­ing time to be work­ing in the Aus­tralian re­sources and en­ergy in­dus­try.”

Re­cruit­ing Staff

The process for re­cruit­ing per­son­nel had no­tice­ably shifted in the last few years.

While tra­di­tional re­cruit­ing meth­ods were still utilised, apps and cloud-based soft­ware were being em­braced by com­pa­nies, large and small.

“With com­pe­ti­tion for labour around the coun­try, many com­pa­nies have turned to re­cruit­ment prac­tices that are dig­i­tally led, and cer­tainly new to the sec­tor for some parts of the in­dus­try,” Min­is­ter Cash said.

A group of tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies have en­gi­neered Uber-like re­cruit­ment apps that stream­line the process, pro­vid­ing ef­fi­ciency for both the re­cruiter and end user.

There were also plat­forms that au­to­mated HR pro­cesses such as man­ag­ing time sheets, payslips, in­voic­ing, equip­ment and uni­form or­ders, and work sched­ules.

Ms Cash said min­ing equip­ment and tech­nol­ogy ser­vices ( METS) providers were also us­ing non-tra­di­tional meth­ods to tal­ent spot and re­cruit, in­clud­ing hackathons de­signed to solve min­ing prob­lems.

“These events can at­tract tal­ent, such as com­puter and data sci­en­tists, statis­ti­cians and pro­gram­mers, that oth­er­wise may not con­sider a ca­reer in the re­sources and re­lated sec­tors,” Ms Cash said.

“Min­ing so­lu­tions of the fu­ture will be solved us­ing ap­proaches across many dis­ci­plines, so it is cru­cial to re­cruit peo­ple with var­ied skills.”

For ex­am­ple, Perth-based com­pany, Un­earthed So­lu­tions, runs min­ing and METS hackathons both do­mes­ti­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, and has re­ceived sup­port from the Gov­ern­ment via the METS Ig­nited Growth Cen­tre.

Ms Cash said a num­ber of hackathon par­tic­i­pants re­ceived em­ploy­ment of­fers or were paid for tar­geted project work and re­search.

Over­seas Work­ers

The pool of job-ready per­son­nel was also evolv­ing, with less in­ter­na­tional work­ers, for one.

In 2017, the Gov­ern­ment an­nounced it would scrap the 457 visa and re­place with a new 482 visa scheme.

AMMA’s Mr Reid said the big­gest im­pact of the leg­is­la­tion was ac­cess to a more lim­ited oc­cu­pa­tion list that qual­i­fied un­der the new visa.

“AMMA has worked with the gov­ern­ment through the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the new visa sys­tem to en­sure those oc­cu­pa­tions in high de­mand and re­quir­ing the most as­sis­tance from over­seas labour re­main ac­ces­si­ble in Aus­tralia’s skilled mi­gra­tion sys­tems,” Mr Reid said.

Min­is­ter Cash said it was worth not­ing that the num­ber of 457 visa hold­ers in Aus­tralia spon­sored by busi­nesses in the min­ing in­dus­try steadily de­clined since its peak in Septem­ber 2012 (when there were 8000 457 visa hold­ers, com­pared to about 1600 in De­cem­ber 2016).

How­ever, in re­sponse to the call from busi­nesses to de­liver more flex­i­ble visa ar­range­ments, a new Global Tal­ent Scheme (GTS) was in­tro­duced on 1 July, 2018.

“It al­lows busi­nesses, as well as start-ups, to spon­sor highly-skilled and spe­cialised work­ers not cov­ered by the stan­dard TSS visa,” Ms Cash said.

“Min­ing com­pa­nies may be able to ac­cess the GTS if they re­quire, and can­not do­mes­ti­cally source, a worker whose oc­cu­pa­tion does not ap­pear on the oc­cu­pa­tion lists.”

Mr Reid said the GTS could po­ten­tially fill some of the gaps that arose when the more lim­ited 482 visa took ef­fect.

The re­sources in­dus­try op­er­ated in a “highly-glob­alised skills mar­ket”, he added, with in­ter­na­tional ex­per­tise of­ten re­quired in Aus­tralia, just as Aus­tralian ex­per­tise was re­quired over­seas to de­velop projects in other parts of the world.

“This is made even more acute when Aus­tralia ex­pe­ri­ences peak de­mand cy­cles, such as that in 2004 to 2014 pe­riod,” he said.

“We are head­ing in that direc­tion of acute skills short­ages again.

“It’s al­ways im­por­tant to have ac­cess to in­ter­na­tional skills to sup­ple­ment and work with and bol­ster our lo­cal work­force.

“This a long-term re­al­ity of an in­ter­na­tional in­dus­try that re­quires long-term pol­icy cer­tainty to shore-up large num­bers of skilled and ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple.”

Up­skilling

This is­sue was again am­pli­fied because peo­ple who en­tered min­ing dur­ing the peak had moved onto other sec­tors post-2014.

Mr Reid said the chal­lenge would be to at­tract these peo­ple back to min­ing.

“Anec­do­tally we are hear­ing of some re­luc­tance among pock­ets of skilled peo­ple to re­turn to the in­dus­try,” he said.

“The other chal­lenge is learn­ing from the past and en­sur­ing that as ac­tiv­ity in the sec­tor con­tin­ues to in­crease, this trans­lates into long-term sus­tain­able em­ploy­ment that is less ex­posed to com­mod­ity price cy­cles or cycli­cal in­vest­ment pe­ri­ods.

“Em­ploy­ers have cer­tainly turned their at­ten­tion to bet­ter man­ag­ing the ebbs and flows of the labour de­mand in the re­sources and en­ergy in­dus­try, so if and when the cur­rent cy­cle in­evitably again starts to de­cline, we don’t lose an­other gen­er­a­tion of skilled, ex­pe­ri­ence and valu­able peo­ple.

“We don’t want to be fac­ing the same re­peated chal­lenge of hav­ing to re­cruit and at­tract tal­ent an­other wave of tal­ent in an­other five to 10 years’ time.”

Fur­ther­more, work­ers also had to be mind­ful of stay­ing rel­e­vant amid the fourth in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion – or In­dus­try 4.0 – which will see tech­nol­ogy become in­te­gral part of the mine’s de­sign and daily op­er­a­tions.

A re­cent Deloitte re­port high­lighted the half-life of learned skills was now about five years, mean­ing up­skilling needed be the ‘new nor­mal’ in an in­creas­ingly mech­a­nised world.

Com­pa­nies and work­ers will share a joint re­spon­si­bil­ity in up­skilling across au­to­ma­tion, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, In­ter­net of Things, and cloud com­put­ing.

“It is an ex­cit­ing time to be work­ing in the Aus­tralian re­sources and en­ergy in­dus­try.”

Im­ages:Sup­plied.

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