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Editorial comment

One of the most important challenges the mining industry will have to face over the next few years is a massive shortage of skilled workers. Not enough graduates in key technical disciplines are being produced to replace the current ageing workforce as they retire, while massive new projects will require huge numbers of additional workers as they come online. BHP Billiton, for example, estimates Australia’s resources sector will need an additional 170,000 workers in the next five years, with Western Australia alone requiring an extra 33,000 workers by the end of next year according to the state’s Chamber of Minerals and Energy.

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The problem is perhaps most acute Down Under, but it is not confined there: around the world, mining economies will run short of trained geologists, mining engineers, metallurgists and other technical professions. How, then, does the mining industry begin to tackle these issues? Faststream Recruitment Group, a specialist mining recruitment company, and, an online jobs board for the industry, recently surveyed 4200 mining professionals. The results were published last month and provide some food for thought.1

The report suggests that 84% of prospective employees feel that a company’s CSR policy was a very important or important factor when deciding whether to join. A structured career development programme also seems to be one of the major attractions: of those that were currently moving jobs, only 19% said they were moving for money, while 55% were moving for career development reasons. Those companies that offer an active role in career development thus seem to be better placed in attracting and keeping talent.

Ultimately, however, the report notes that there will need to be structural change to the way mining companies recruit if the skills shortage is to be filled. This needs to begin with universities. There are simply not enough mining schools training enough graduates to fill the industry’s need. While some majors do work with and provide funding for universities, more such collaboration is required: scholarships, work placements and more direct input into university syllabi from mining companies would all be steps forward.

The industry also needs to deal with an image problem in order to interest and attract the best talent. Many still view the industry as dirty and dangerous, haunted by regular boom-and-bust cycles. A concerted effort is thus required to provide a more accurate narrative of the industry today – an industry committed to high safety and CSR standards, aa well as stable, long-term growth.

With mining companies announcing record investment in new projects, the skills shortage needs to be tackled now. If it is not, the industry may soon find itself without the human resources required to fully exploit the natural resources that so often make the headlines.

1. Faststream Recruitment Group and, Mining Global Employment Review 2011: People in the mining sector – what does the future hold? (October 2011).