Mining for Human Talent is Australia’s the Top Priority

Posted on: 11.07.2011    17:13:04

You sometimes wonder which planet politicians inhabit. The latest is that the Federal Government wants to charge a swinging carbon tax but has failed to address the elephant in the room – a frightening and escalating skills shortage.

Put quite simply without people you have no profit and without profit you have no taxes. What a tremendous own goal!

Queensland’s mining sector is expected to create 140,000 jobs in the next two years, according to the latest quarterly assessment of the job market by recruitment firm Hudson. So what does that make the total across Australia for the mining sector alone 250,000 – 500,000 is the broad bush number being bandied about depending on whether you include infrastructure support staff.

But the miners are already reporting the highest unfilled jobs rate of any industry in the country with 3.6 vacancies per 100 people employed, but we suspect that this under reports the challenge as it does not include projects yet to leave the drawing board.

The scramble for staff is a significant political hot potato problem for the Government, which is under growing pressure from the miners to allow more fly-in/fly-out (FIFO) numbers for new projects, a strategy broadly opposed by the coal miners’ union, the CFMEU, and many local mining communities.

Earlier this year BHP Billiton turned the FIFO debate – which has shadow boxed for years – into a fully fledged fight by formally asking the State Government to allow it to source up to 500 people directly for one project.

The Government has so far insisted that 30% of the workforce has to be local, but has offered no solution on how that 30% can be found. Perhaps one in three of the politicians would like to volunteer!

But BHP Billiton – echoing the sentiments of other big mining project promoters – says it simply cannot find its workers locally and warns it will not proceed with the mine until it knows it has the necessary workforce. This requires a global recruitment effort using international recruitment agencies that can attract the talent required. Candidates have free choice and will go where the best deal is and it needs an environment where decisions are made quickly with the minimum of bureaucracy.

Regardless of political decisions, the growth of FIFO workforce in Queensland is inevitable with the state’s big new coal seam gas projects and the proponents of up to $60 billion worth of new coal mines in the Galilee Basin all relying, to some extent, on FIFO workers to build and run their operations.

Such is the potential growth of a commuting workforce for the mine fields that Brisbane is considering a dedicated FIFO hub outside its existing domestic terminals.

Then of course where will these workers be housed on and off shift and will the fly out distance need to increase and the shift patterns changed? Who will build the units?

Unless the domestic government can make is unattractive not to work then the solutions in the next few years will have to come from outside Australia’s borders but things will get a lot worse before they get better.

We keep advising CEO’s to better plan talent management but it doesn’t help if politicians ignore the  herd of elephants that are present.


Author: Chris Slay

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