What would make mining a more attractive career?

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Why aren't young people attracted to mining anymore? And who''s responsible for promoting the industry?

On one level, it’s dumbfounding.

How can Australia —a country rich in minerals, whose prosperity has been built for 150 years on digging things out of the ground — be experiencing a mining skills shortage?

Sure, the work is hard and often dirty, but the salaries on offer are good. During the last boom, people were falling all over themselves for “a job on the mines” and were earning — as the media kept reminding us — “triple-figure salaries”.

So, what happened? How can it be that, so soon after the last boom ended, Australia’s mining industry is yet again experiencing a skills shortage? Why don’t Australians want “a job on the mines” anymore?

But on another level, mining’s problem is not dumbfounding at all.

It could be that young people today, in choosing their potential career paths, have the last industry downturn fresh in their minds. They know people who lost their jobs, who had overextended on home loans and who had to sell their beloved HSVs on the verge.

Could it also be that some of those who might have been attracted to a career in mining have, instead, gone into traditional trades? After all, people with construction skills are in high demand when mining is booming and companies are commissioning and building projects.

Or is more likely that, as we reported recently, many young people just have no idea what careers the mining industry offers?

Whatever it is, we’re not attracting enough people into the industry, and that’s something we’re going to pay for (literally) down the track as yet another skills shortage bites.

RELATED: As mining’s skills shortage bites, here’s what to do

Youth unimpressed by promise of technology

Most recently there has been a focus on the technology used in mining, in a bid to make the industry more attractive. But the same survey that told us most young people have never considered a career in mining, YouthSight also tells us they’re unimpressed by technology.

METS Ignited is one of the groups charged with promoting mining industry careers. General Manager of Education and Leadership Skills, Sarah Boucaut, told Australian Mining last month the YouthSight survey findings were a “wake-up call”.

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“We thought the fact that mining and METS (mining equipment, technology and services) were heavily technology driven nowadays, where we use data analytics, robotics and automation, would be a big drawcard,” she told the magazine. “But that actually has a very low level of importance, which represents a huge gap from people in their 50s and above, who are always saying ‘wow, look at how technology enabled the industry is.’

“Students that are 18 to 20 are instead saying ‘of course it is technology enabled. It’s 2018; everything is technology enabled.’ ”

RELATED: New automation jobs: did mining just get cool?

How do we make mining careers more attractive?

Mining clearly has a good story to tell. What the YouthSight survey makes clear is that:

  • We’re telling the wrong story, and
  • It’s not reaching the people who need to hear it.

So, what’s the message that will resonate? To answer that, we need more research – and hopefully the next YouthSight report (which is backed by METS Ignited, the Minerals Council of Australia and AusIMM) will give us some answers on that front. It’ll be fascinating to see what they come up with. Clearly promises of high wages will not work. Wowing them with impressive technology, will not work either.

So, we don’t yet know what will work, but what we do know is that something needs to be done – and fast. With the skills shortage already biting, it might be too late to get young people excited about mining and into the system in time for this uptick, but none of us want to see the industry in the same place again, next time around.

This month’s MPi Poll asks who is responsible for promoting mining industry careers. Have your say throughout the month of July.

Dan Hatch
Mining People International