New project? Prepare early or be caught out by mining’s skills shortage

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A spate of new mining projects experiencing delays in recent months shows the industry’s skills shortage is starting to bite. Here’s what to do to avoid the same fate.

A spate of mining projects experiencing delays in recent months is a stark demonstration the industry’s skills shortage is starting to bite, Mining People’s Managing Director Steve Heather has warned.

“There have been numerous companies that have all announced big delays to commissioning either new or improvement projects this year, with varying degrees of consequences for the companies and shareholders,” Heather said. “And look, I rate many of these companies as being pretty solid with good management, some of whom I know personally well, so I’m not saying they’re bad operators.

“What we’re seeing here is the reality of the skills shortage we’re seeing across the industry, and it’s going to keep catching out companies that aren’t prepared.”

The mining industry has been heating up in the past couple of years, with good commodity prices encouraging strong investment in both new and existing projects. But while those projects have been funded and often built, getting the workforce to commission and operate them is regularly proving harder than expected.

Yes, things can and do go wrong, but normally if you can get access to people, you can fix things pretty quickly,” Heather said.

Operating phased shortages can be absorbed for short periods

“Once you reach a stable operating stage, you can generally get away with some staff shortages for a limited period of time but it’s not great if they become permanent,” Heather said. “We saw towards the end of the last mining boom that there were staff shortages everywhere and physical and emotional stress levels were pretty high as a result.

“But if you’re trying to commission a new plant or a new part of a plant and you don’t have people there, then it stops, nothing moves, and that time and therefore production, is lost forever.”


READ MORE: The mining employment market is hotting up

Where are the skills shortages really biting

The skill shortages are biting across the board, and that’s seeing companies offer higher salaries in a bid to attract crucial team members. It’s happening in trades – particularly with heavy diesel fitters and auto-electricians – experienced equipment operators, geologists and mining engineers.

Our data shows salaries for trade roles are up 15 to 20% and underground and surface operators’ salaries have risen by an average of around 10%. Mining engineers and geologists with underground experience at either junior or senior level have seen their salary expectations rise by more than 10%, and contract rates are up 15 to 20%.


READ MORE: Employment and mining: April 2019 Quarterly Update


“Some of the main factors driving overall demand at the moment really are those new and renovated mines across a multitude of commodities, Australia-wide,” Heather said. “So if you’re bringing on a new project or carrying out an improvement project in the current jobs market, you really need to start looking for people early.”

Get in early to secure the best mining employees

While we’re not quite back to the hyperinflated salaries and general craziness of the last boom, Heather said the industry had also moved a long way from the post-boom period where mining companies could just “slap an ad up and have people come flooding to their project.”

“Particularly for a new project start-up, it’s vital to recognise that recruiting to fill those new roles is a big job ­– and you may well not have enough people internally to do it,” he said.

“But whether you outsource the recruitment task or do it internally, it’s crucial to resource your recruiters or HR team properly, to do it early, and to get out into the market as soon as possible and start building your talent pools very early on.

“If you wait, the realities of the current mining job market could cause huge and costly delays.”


Mining People International has more than 25 years’ specialist experience helping mining companies find the best candidates across every job category. We have also managed recruitment for more than 50 new project start-ups with each needing between 10 and 500 people. Find out more here or get in touch today.
Dan Hatch
Mining People International