Addressing the skills shortage

Each year the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM) releases a Remuneration and Employment survey with some interesting results.

Respondents were asked about the perception of pay equity. More than 27% of female respondents said they perceived themselves as being paid less compared to their male colleagues who were performing the same role.

In 2007, the survey revealed a similar pay inequity between male and female respondents, prompting the Women in Mining Network (WIMNet) to name the Gender Pay Gap as its top priority.

With the skills shortage at boiling point it is critical that minesites employ effective initiatives to attract and retain female workers.

According to recent research commissioned by the Minerals Council of Australia, employment in the already buoyant minerals sector is set for even stronger growth, with a 70% increase expected by 2020.

Last year, the total employment of women among the Queensland Resources Council’s (QRC) member companies in Queensland was 11% with women making up 7% of ‘non-traditional’ roles. The QRC aims to increase this 7% to at least 12% by 2020.

With a lot of work still to be done, it is vital for employers to start coming up with ways to attract and retain women, if increased productivity is to be sustained into the future.

In The AusIMM’s Remuneration and Employment survey, respondents were asked about the perception of pay equity.

27% of female respondents said they perceived themselves as being paid less compared to their male colleagues who were performing the same role.

Furthermore, results indicated that 48% of male respondents felt they were being paid the same as their colleagues.

Mothers or miners?

For female respondents, however, workplace flexibility was the biggest gripe.

According to the survey, 28.6% of respondents were carers.

Of those, 90% cared for a child and 7% cared for an elderly person. However, only 2% indicated that their employer ran a child care facility.

BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance’s Blackwater Mine is one of few minesites that actually operates a licensed child care facility.

According to BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance Goonyella Riverside Mine’s senior mechanical engineer Melanie Gordon, it is these types of initiatives that help attract and retain female employees into the minerals sector.

“Women are definitely a minority in the mining industry, so it is important to have support from various organisations to attract women to work in the industry,” Gordon told Australian Mining.

“The mining industry is not seen as an attractive career option for women and very few of them know what opportunities are available.

“With the skills shortage in Australia, women are an untapped resource that could help solve this problem.”

The AusIMM survey revealed that 25% of female careers agreed or strongly agreed that the costs of care were a disincentive to continue working in their current role.

These findings clearly demonstrated that quality affordable child care is a prerequisite to effective attraction and retention of female employees, as well as aiding the retention of male employees.

Maternity leave was another factor that contributed towards women moving out of the minerals sector.

Results from the survey suggested that barely half of the female respondents who took maternity leave returned to the same employer.

The women surveyed represent professionals in key technical disciplines, often with deep corporate knowledge of the organisations in which they work.

The cost to the company of losing them is, therefore, significant.

In a bid to address some of the issues with high turnover of women taking maternity leave, the AusIMM made a submission indicating that a paid parental leave scheme would assist in the retention of women.

To a primary carer, the emotional and financial costs of undertaking unpaid maternity leave are significant.

Parents who take leave to care for infants forgo considerable income and can face higher costs than parents in other industries due to the remoteness of their workplace.

According to The AusIMM, there is no single solution to increasing women’s equitable participation in the minerals sector. However, a package of family-friendly policies will make a significant difference in the long term.

These include the availability of flexible work practices, quality part-time work arrangements, affordable child care facilities and a period of mandated paid parental leave. According to Gordon, increasing the number of women in mining could make all the difference on-site.

“I’ve had feedback from many of my co-workers, who have been in the industry for a long time, and they have all said that it is a more enjoyable and professional work environment with women,” she said.

“I’ve also been told that women pay more attention to detail and are better communicators.”


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