Are rosters and flexible work patterns contributing to the skills shortage in mining? You bet. Here’s how.
As mining faces yet another skills shortage, it’s timely to ask whether the rosters we use and the flexible work patterns we see in modern workplaces are contributing to problem.
Let’s take a look at how rosters and flexibility are hurting mining recruitment.
How rosters and flexibility add to skills shortage
In the 1990s FIFO rosters were predominantly 14/7. This meant they required three crews (or panels) of shift workers to run both the process plant and the mine.
With the introduction of even-time rosters like 8/6 and 9/5, the numbers of operational employees needed increased, as these rosters require four panels to ensure a site can operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
So, as more sites moved to an even-time roster, the industry needed more people. More people employed equals fewer skilled people available to fill new vacancies. Before long, a skills shortage emerges.
Flexible work schedules are most often worked by employees on day shift, or perhaps on an even-time style roster. These can now be found in residential, city-based roles and FIFO roles.
But when you add in this flexibility — whether it’s flexitime, part-time hours or job sharing — the number of personnel required to staff and run a mine increases yet again. That creates an even smaller pool of experienced people available to fill full-time vacancies.
FURTHER READING: The rise of flexible work in the resources industry
But what about continuous shift personnel working flexibly?
We don’t often see flexibility in continuous shift roles, but it does happen.
The challenge is sourcing the experienced personnel. But individuals could job share and work alternate cycles, in either a FIFO or residential position.
This may not be as effective in situations where crews work eight straight shifts (as potentially someone may always be doing the night shift) but it could certainly work if each person did two eight-day swings.
Under this roster each person would work 16 shifts in eight weeks. Your required employee numbers would double, assuming everyone wants to work flexibly. However, employees’ wages would halve. That’s not really ideal from an employee perspective.
But what if a site worked a 14/7 roster with a similar flexible work arrangement? In the same 56-day period, employees would work 28 days. You would need three panels so, while required employee numbers would double, the fact you need three panels means you would require fewer employees in total. On a flexible 14/7 roster, employees could go from working two-thirds of the year, to half the year, and their income would decrease by a third. Potentially, this is a more attractive option to both parties.
Obviously, the above scenarios don’t take into account production efficiencies, lean systems, automation or AI. But at a basic level, in both scenarios, more personnel are required. And while flexibility improves a company’s ability to attract and retain employees, companies must be prepared to recruit more personnel.
Looking ahead to solve the problems
Ultimately, there’s a bigger problem here: we’re not seeing enough people coming into the industry and it’s exacerbating the skills shortage. That’s something we’ve had some big discussions about in many articles on the MPi Newsroom.
The Australian mining industry is currently in a situation where it is trying to avoid the hyperinflation of salaries we saw during the last boom – and it’s conditions like better and more flexible rosters that are being used to attract and retain the best people. But we must acknowledge the costs of these practices, too. We need to accept that these practices are making it harder to find experienced personnel and adding to some of our problems.