Employment and mining: April 2019 Quarterly update

2019 Graph

Take a close look at Mining People’s data to see the state of mining industry employment in Australia in 2019.

Welcome to our industry update for the April quarter of 2019. Sorry it’s a little late; we held off writing it for a month to get the news from the coalface at Diggers and Dealers.

And it’s a good job we did. In terms of projects, commodities and operational mines, the news we gathered at Diggers is very, very positive.


In our nineteenth straight year at Diggers, we once again found our booth being sought out by people wanting to talk about one big topic: people.

We were asked so many questions about strategy, retention and attraction. “How do you guys find such good candidates,” is a common one (although obviously we don’t give that away!)

From all the questioning, it quickly became clear that everyone is in the same boat. Whether you’re an explorer, producer, mining service or contracting company, everybody wants people — and everybody wants good people.

How to find ‘good people’ in the mining industry

So, before I give you a brief overview on what we see and how things have been at Mining People and the market we service, I want to share a couple of things we feel are critical when you’re a looking for “good people”.

  • Speed of response – Don’t throw an advert up on Seek or engage a recruitment company only to sit on resumes when they come through. Act with urgency. When you actively engage a candidate, they are less likely to consider “something else”. Let them sit for a week with no feedback and you’ll lose them.
  • Tell your story – Paint the full picture to your short-listed applicants. Take them on your journey. This will quickly give both them and you a real sense of whether they fit the team and culture you have (or are trying to build).
  • Don’t engage multiple recruitment companies at the same time – This just creates a race to present resumes and most of the time the agencies are not looking for the best person in mind. All you’ve done is create a race to put “bums on seats”.
  • Support – If you engage with an agency, support them. A good agency will have one thing in mind – placing the best candidate that fits your team, culture and specific discipline set. If they ask to connect with a line manager, there’s a good reason. Most are not there to cut HR out of the process but to add value to the HR team by fully understanding exactly what the line manager requires.

I mention these four guiding principles above because we know they work. The clients we work with who engage under these principles have a higher recruitment success rate than those who don’t, and they are creating highly successful teams. For a quick snapshot for your business (if you engage recruiters) run the stats on one thing: how many of your candidates convert to full-time employment with you (or at least complete their contract period)?

If you are getting “a good deal” on the price recruiters are charging but the candidates are not converting or fulfilling their contract period, there is a high chance you are actually paying more to that agency compared to one that charges a bit more but where the first candidate they place sticks around.

The battle for talent is only heating up and labour shortage spot fires are expected to grow into bonfires in the near future. If it is not working now, it is not going to work as the pace quickens!

Where to from here for Australian mining recruitment?

So, what’s the state of play? What’s the situation actually like on the ground?

Here’s a quick recap from last quarter’s update, which certainly still applies:

Firstly, it is essential that we all think about white-collar and blue-collar workforces differently.

White collar is all about attracting students into mining-related degrees. It’s essential we take a long-term view to ensure we continue to attract people into the professional disciplines. Creating innovative educational programs at secondary school level will sure help, and I’m pleased to say this is happening already.

From the blue-collar side, it’s purely about bringing in more and more entry-level candidates to our operational jobs. Mining People is doing our part here, with a new entry-level business soon to be announced (stay tuned). It’s great to see more principals employing trainees and more mining service and contract companies taking on entry-level employees. However, more needs to be done and the blinkers need to come off in this area.

Now, back to this latest quarter.

Mining employee demand is strong across multiple segments

Gold clients still top the table and iron ore has shot through the roof in the past quarter. Meanwhile, the volume of base metals and contractor roles we have worked on has dropped, but the total positions engaged through Mining People remains relative to the last quarter.

This backs the markets in the sense that many commodities are performing well. Of note is nickel, which has not hit its straps yet (although many people “in the know” don’t think that is far off). Look at Western Areas getting Cosmos ready again or Black Mountain and Poseidon readying Lanfranchi and Black Swan, for example.

The percentage of jobs worked on by the MPi Group by market segment.

So, as a mining industry recruiter, what are we seeing?

  • Recent economic uncertainty around the world is causing some mining companies and their financiers to tread a little warily. That said, the current demand for most commodities is increasing, but new supply has not entered the market and will be delayed due to the lack of new projects developed so far.
  • There are a lot of new projects being promoted (more than will ever be developed) and the general feeling is there is a phase of mergers and acquisition activity that is required before some of these projects will be developed. This may take some time to work through and that might somewhat ease some of the talent shortages “as two companies become one,” etc.
  • Despite this, we still expect to see continued tightening across disciplines, including geology and mining engineering, trades and processing. We are already in deficit in these areas and don’t see this changing.

What are we seeing in Kalgoorlie and the WA Goldfields in particular?

  • Continued strong demand for trades, surface and underground staff across both white- and blue-collar disciplines.
  • Kalgoorlie’s leaders have started to raise concerns about FIFO and what it is doing to the town. Stop commenting and start proposing solutions! This is bigger than you and me and possibly the leaders of the Goldfields; however, something significant is needed to pull people back to Kalgoorlie: tax breaks, government incentives, rebates… or, heaven forbid, residential candidates receiving a bit more in the back pocket compared to the FIFO workforce!
  • A big shout-out to the employers of the Goldfields, who continue to lead the way in terms of employing entry-level candidates and providing traineeships, apprenticeships and upskilling. The next step is getting “every” inexperienced city-based candidate who wants a start in mining to get out of their comfort zone (only want a FIFO job) and get out to these mining towns to get their start. Who knows, they might end up like me and add back into the town. I landed in Kalgoorlie on a three-year plan and stayed for 20.

Job flow: mining job opportunities coming to Mining People

Permanent positions continue to flow at a great rate of knots into Mining People, and  temporary roles are solid as well.

Forecasting year-on-year “jobs worked on by Mining People”, we are possibly seeing year-on-year growth of around 20%. That may not seem significant, as the actual numbers are not shown; however, I can guarantee you, we are busy!  Chart showing the number of vacant job opportunities coming to Mining People over the past two years.

Mining People’s overall summary of the mining jobs market

Let’s look at one platform that is available to everyone: Seek.

They show 5198 mining jobs across Australia. The combination of all other states barring Western Australia is around 2700 vacant mining jobs. WA has the rest. This means about 50% of the time you are fighting east coast competitors for mining talent. The rest of the time you’re fighting on home soil.

Not that we have the data, we believe that this is a very different picture from the years that were known as the “boom times”. We think this because last time the shortages were WA grown — iron ore, nickel and gold were all looking for talent and we could bring people in from the east. This time, the shortage is nationwide.

That means you have to work hard for the talent. Not that we have anything against Seek; we use it. But if this is your primary approach to finding employees, don’t except the best. Simple, one-dimensional approaches do not work as they did in the past. You need a multi-layered approach.

Here’s the summary of the quarter in mining employment

There are some great grassroots initiatives around, like the recent Saracen and Northern Star sponsorship's of the WA School of Mines, which are encouraging people into the industry. Young Professionals in Mining and Women in Mining are both gaining traction. These are just fantastic for our up-and-coming professionals.

On the blue-collar side, I feel more can be done at this grassroots level. Getting to young students at a high school level will definitely help educate them about the opportunities that exist. There has to be a clear understanding that there are other career paths — alternatives to a white-collar profession.

Isn’t it funny how children play in the sand pit at school with trucks and diggers and have an awesome time doing it, but when you question a child about what they want to do when they grow up, you very rarely hear “I want to be a digger operator”? 

We certainly love mining and, as we move into our twenty-fifth year as a company, we look forward to supporting our candidates and clients to grow and prosper in what looks to be an exciting (and challenging) few years ahead.

As always, we are happy to hear from you about the kind of data you are looking for about the market. We have access to a broad range of statistics we’re happy to share with our clients. Please help us improve this update by dropping us a reply at shane.moore@miningpeople.com.au with your ideas.

In the meantime, if you want a more detailed idea of what’s happening in your specific sector of the market, please give me a call on 08 9426 1549 .

Shane Moore
General Manager – Workforce Operations & Career Services
Mining People International