A fluid solution to a fluid problem

Companies are failing to retain staff and skilled workers are being lured away by better jobs offers midway through other projects, leaving behind frustrated teams and difficult games of catch-up for new contractors brought in to pick up the pieces.

The largely fluid and unstable workforce in the mining and resources industries is well documented, and Kristine Berry, Director of engineering and ECPM (project management) recruitment firm, says the trend will cause serious disruptions if left unresolved.

“Key contractors leave before the completions of a project and then you have their replacements playing catch-up, resulting in frustration and burn out on the part of other team members. Crucial project-specific information is at risk of being lost when personnel come and go, and deadlines are sometimes missed,” she said.

A recent survey conducted among their database found that only a quarter of respondents are demonstrating loyalty to their current organization, and over 40 per cent would seriously consider moving for the right opportunity.

Over a third is currently actively seeking positions elsewhere.

These kinds of statistics are concerning for owners and managers, as the need for skilled workers increases and they scramble to keep up with their offers at other companies.

“Skilled workers realise they are in demand. They have the luxury of considering more attractive opportunities with other companies, and a very good chance of being successful due to the lack of overall candidate competition in the industry,” she said.

She adds that industry workers are “clued up” on alternate opportunities on the market.

“I believe that companies are aware of this risk, and we are seeing a remarkable increase in salaried staff positions over contractual arrangements.

"However, companies could do more to encourage staff loyalty by offering bonuses and other incentives for staff who see projects through to completion,” Berry said.

Workers are lured away, often headhunted by large companies, with the promise of better pay, travel agreements and other incentives.

Bernie Hogan, from Site Work Ready, says there is only so far companies can stretch to accommodate the demands of the workers.

“These guys are able to say ‘Yes, Big Company, hire me, I’ll work for you if you pick me up and drop me home for footy on Saturday’.

"I think they need to work on eliminating this. It becomes an arms race and it will become unattainable, as the demands get bigger and bigger and the companies scramble to meet them.”

Site Work Ready describes themselves as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for skilled industries including mining.

They say they have identified a hole in the market and are moving to solve the problems by providing skilled workers, who are trained according to Australian standards at their main training centre in the Philippines.

“What people do now is they go across the globe looking for staff. It’s like speed dating sometimes, they interview 200 people, get 100 to start work, which is a very risky venture. We’re taking a pre-emptive step, telling the industry to think and understand how many people they are going to need in specific roles for a project, and we can have them ready. Here you go, here they are.

There’s been huge investment and growth in the mining industry in the last 12 years and there are cascading effects, as contractors need numbers, as do the maintenance teams.

"Also it’s created a situation where people want FIFO’s or they want to work in maintenance based in capital cities so they can stay with their families and in the cities.

"We’re offering a workforce willing to go where you need them to.”

He told Australian Mining the workers are trained not only in the work skills they require, but must also successfully pass English tests and be aware of Australian culture, including slang and even sports like football and cricket.

“Our company has a different mentality to a lot of the companies who bring foreign workers over.

"We’re not going to graduate someone who can’t speak quality English and has the same qualities as someone who companies train here,” Hogan said.

In December, mining giant Clive Palmer announced plans to have 10 per cent of workers at his $8 billion coal development in the Galilee Basin of central-west Queensland sourced from China.

"In Western Australia, in our projects there, we’ve had something like 10 per cent who are Chinese people on site," Palmer said.

"We’ve had 7000 workers, we’ve had about seven or eight hundred Chinese engineers who are directing the work.”

He said it “would probably turn out something like that” at his Queensland site.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said the project, which is yet to be approved, will have to get the same approvals as any other proposal.

"Clive Palmer’s company stands to do very well out of this project, and Queenslanders expect to get something out of it also — local jobs for local people," she said.

Moves to source miners from other countries have been met with widespread criticism, with concerns raised about the loss of local jobs in favour of cheap foreign workers.

Hogan counteracts these claims, saying the workers must be paid the same as Australians and therefore will not be providing companies with the same amount of work for less money.

“We’re talking about a 200 000 shortage of people in WA alone, across the different sectors. Going overseas won’t cure the problem completely but it will allow a guaranteed workforce for some of the roles,” Hogan said

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