Mining People Matters

Steve Heather

Steve Heather, Managing Director and Co-founder of Mining People International (MPi).

The problem with Australia's skill development efforts - and is your own narrow mindedness helping or hindering things?

The problem with Australia's skill development efforts - and is your own narrow mindedness helping or hindering things?

The problem with Australia's skill development efforts - and is your own narrow mindedness helping or hindering things?

The following opinion piece is based on an article by Jody Elliot, as quoted in the January 2012 edition of Australia’s Paydirt magazine. Jody has more than 15 years experience in senior and management HR and recruitment with some of Australia’s blue chip miners. 

The article laid out a case to quickly and efficiently ease some of the skills shortages the industry is currently experiencing and which (if current estimates are any guide) will only get MUCH worse. The project pipeline is staggering with 75 advanced projects either underway or due to start in the next two years and another 286 projects currently undergoing some degree of assessment.

Now as a trained mining engineer who worked in the industry for 15 years and ultimately managed mining projects before co-founding Mining People International (MPi), I have seen life from ‘both sides of the fence’ so to speak.

The technician in me (and from previous experience) knows only too well that many of these projects will NOT proceed, for all manner of reasons. However, that could easily dismiss another issue in that we don’t need very many of these projects to proceed, for there to be an impossible drain on an already stressed employment market.

So what is the answer?

Well aside from the government needing to do more to facilitate immigration and easier use of offshore contract labour, there are things that we can all do now.

The article referred to one simple but radical idea, whereby perhaps every employer should be compelled to immediately advertise 10% of their roles as;

“no industry experience required”

This must apply to contractors, principals and engineering firms and, as part of this, principals need to accept that their engineers and contractors have to be permitted to factor in a cost for this extra carrying load of staff.

It is obviously dependent on the specific role but evidence suggests there are thousands of people who are willing, able and motivated to enter the industry and who are in some cases degree or trade qualified or who have obtained relevant tickets/licenses but who cannot get an entry level role because they have no experience.

At MPi we have a sister publication to this MPi News, called MPi LIFE. It is an electronically transmitted ‘blog’ style newsletter sent to some 20,000 blue collar candidates. We regularly ask for feedback and the site invites public comment.

It is quite staggering the number of comments lodged by candidates who complain loudly and consistently that despite terrific life experience, trades and other qualifications and despite a clear willingness to work in remote places, that a lot of employer companies routinely ignore this fantastic source of potential employees by providing a blanket instruction to HR and Recruitment departments that “please do not apply if you have no prior experience in the mining industry”.

As an ex Mine Manager I understand all the arguments around safety and the like, but that is not the issue here. The issue is that ANY new person to a site needs to undergo a thorough induction and safety program. If someone can demonstrate a strong work history in another industry, in many cases have achieved a level of technical training and lastly references suggest they have the right attitude, then one is fairly safe to assume that they are at least as intelligent and at least as capable of making that transition as someone with experience at another site.

Our view is that in some cases, certain mining operators are their own worst enemy by adopting such narrow minded strategies. There are some wonderful people out there but we all need to remove our blinkers to see them.