Australia’s minerals sector facing skills crisis

Australia’s minerals industry professionals have experienced another surge in unemployment. The mining industry is now losing highly skilled professionals as they pursue alternative work.

The organisation representing minerals professionals, the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM), today released annual survey results highlighting an alarming increase in unemployment amongst highly trained and skilled minerals industry professionals.

Key results from the annual AusIMM Professional Employment Survey include:

  • The unemployment rate for Australia’s minerals professionals is 16.2 per cent – a significant increase from 12.2 per cent in 2014 and a massive jump from just 1.7 per cent in 2012. Unemployment for mining professionals is almost triple the national unemployment rate.
  • Minerals production roles, including mining engineers, metallurgical engineers and geotechnical engineers, have faced the largest year-on-year increase in unemployment, although geoscientists were the first groups affected by the downturn.
  • Almost one-quarter of Australia’s iron ore mining professionals (24.4 per cent) are currently unemployed, reflecting significant job cuts in that sector despite increased volumes of iron ore going to market.
  • Employment volatility is increasing and opportunities decreasing: 16.4 per cent of mining professionals have been made redundant, and 18.3 per cent of employed mining professionals have changed employers in the last year.
  • Almost 30 per cent of unemployed mining professionals are now long-term unemployed (that is, unemployed for 12 months or more). Many are seeking employment outside the mining industry and may never return to the sector.

The industry is experiencing a third round of redundancies and retrenchments, leaving many mining professionals without jobs and with limited prospects of re-entering the industry. This has national implications given the significance of mining to Australia’s economic health.

AusIMM President Rex Berthelsen says the survey results reflect the hard reality for many mining professionals who have lost their jobs.

‘Many of us have spent our careers in mining and we have experienced cycles and job losses before, but few can remember worse times and as an Institute, we are alarmed at the loss of good people who may not return and can never be replaced.

‘We are also concerned that a whole level of experienced managers is being removed, leaving the industry at risk of losing its ability to innovate and pursue continuous improvements in safety and environmental performance.’

AusIMM CEO Michael Catchpole says the survey shows alarming increases in unemployment. This is a worrying addition to the fact that Universities have seen significant reductions in the numbers of students enrolling in and completing professional qualifications.

‘The continued turbulence and resulting loss of skills creates major risks for the future of the

Australian mining sector and for the Australian economy,’ Mr Catchpole said.

‘This sector underpinned years of economic growth and supported Australia’s economy through the global financial crisis. Government now needs to ramp up support for skills development, research, innovation and productivity improvements to maintain Australia’s position not just as a commodities exporter, but a leading exporter of skills, technology and equipment to the global mining industry.’

To view the full AusIMM Professional Employment Survey results: