New mining boom means new skills shortages

Western Australia is reportedly on the cusp of another resources boom and this has once again put skills, and more specifically skills shortages, back in the spotlight.

As demand for skilled workers ramps up as new projects commence, competition between major players is expected to see wages rise once more, while those who scaled back their training programs in the last few years are now likely to experience the effects of that reduction.

Led by the improvements in the iron ore industry, extra pressure is being added to labour market issues with the addition of new and expanding projects in gold and lithium mining and processing.

Initially, those skills shortages will be most evident in parts of the construction sector, as many of these new projects begin their building phases. BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group are concurrently all building new mines which will require an estimated 6,000 construction workers. Job advertisements on the website SEEK reveal the number of mining sector job vacancies jumped 40 per cent March-May this year compared to the same period in 2017.

While in previous booms the strategy has often been to fill skills gaps with imported labour from other states and even overseas, experts are saying meeting the demand for skilled workers will be more challenging this time around. The economies of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland themselves are now booming with rail and infrastructure projects and traditional overseas labour markets like England and Ireland have likewise experienced economic recovery.

This time around the challenges won’t be exclusively focused on trade or technician level occupations either as student confident in the industry post-boom has seen a significant drop in the number of tertiary enrolments in mining engineering degrees. Based on data from eight Australian universities the number of engineering students set to graduate across the country will fall to 50 per year by 2022, down from highs of almost 300 per year, according to the Minerals Council of Australia. WA School of Mines Kalgoorlie director, Sam Spearing has said that student enrolments were down 50 per cent since the peak in 2013 and haven’t bounced despite the industry picking up.

While the number of apprenticeships in WA rose 7.3 per cent in the 12 months to the end of March, it will take up to four years for those students to hit the workforce.

“We have got to plan through the down periods as well,” Jim Walker, chairman of WA’s State Training Board has said. “I understand you can’t have the same number of trainees or apprentices going through, but you still need to plan for when we come out of that, you have got the people there.”

Directions Workforce Solutions can assist you with solutions for your skills needs both short, medium and longer term by designing and implementing an apprenticeship and traineeship program specifically for your business, with the flexibility to cope with industry cycles and make it more resilient to skills and wages pressure during boom times.

Contact us at enquiries@directionswa.com.au or phone (08) 9274 8502 to arrange a confidential chat.