Reports that Australia’s mining industry will continue to shrink have led to a skills shortage as few young engineers pursue employment in the industry, despite higher-than-average salaries for graduate engineers.
Schools once turned out close to 300 mining engineers per year at the height of the resources investment boom, but that’s changed in the past few years.
“When we look into the future four years from now, we will have less than 50 mining engineering graduates across Australia available to the industry – so it’s a pressing and very real concern,” Gavin Lind, Director – Workforce Skills, Health and Safety at the Minerals Council of Australia, told the ABC.
Factors at play
Graduate engineers working in the mining industry are some of the profession’s highest paid – the average salary is $100,000 or more a year. But high pay is not as much of an incentive as it used to be, said Lind.
“In part it’s the negative sentiment towards the industry, particularly in metropolitan areas, which is affecting students’ ability to see a long-term future for themselves in mining,” Lind said.
Perceptions about the mining industry, slow-to-rebound commodities prices and fewer graduates pursuing mining engineering degrees are creating the perfect storm for a skills shortage within the industry.
“In three to four years’ time, I think the numbers are peeling off – we’re talking about halving again – coming into a period where the industry is starting to boom,” said Raleigh Finlayson, managing director for Saracen Mineral Holdings in WA and president of the WA School of Mines’ Alumni Association.
He stated some of this can be attributed to the cyclical nature of the industry, as well as competition from other sectors for talent.
“Civil projects like the Sydney airport and tunnels are pulling some of our resources from WA over there, so we’ve got an issue which we need to address very, very quickly.”
Lind is also concerned about the removal of mining engineers from the short-term list of positions for the temporary skill shortage visa.
“Our industry will always look locally first, but if those skills simply aren’t there, the industry won’t stop and we will need to find those skills from somewhere else,” he said.
WA School of Mines director, Professor Sam Spearing, agreed, and said the government must do more to attract students to the mining industry, such as offering incentives.
“There will be a skills shortage and we do need to try and address that,” he said.
“It’s going to need a coordinated approach by the government, industry and the tertiary sector. There’s far more jobs than we’ve got people to fill, and that’s across every level – from operator to the instrumentation technician, to drill operators, to engineers, to tradies. There’s just a general shortage of people in the mining industry.”