Apprentices, STEM students key to filling future mining roles

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Resources industry workers will be in high demand over the next five years as project activity ramps up across Australia. Salomae Haselgrove investigates where these jobs will be and how the sector plans to fill them.

The mining and energy sectors are set to create more than 24,000 Australian jobs by 2026, according to the Australian Resources and Energy Group’s (AMMA) Resources and Energy Forecast (2021-2026) report. 

Of these 24,000-plus roles, the mining industry’s most in-demand occupation will be plant operators, requiring a total of 9233 workers, despite growing digital trends in the industry such as automation.

Plant operators were followed by 4484 engineers and 3014 heavy diesel fitters, ranking above geologists and other technical roles, further solidifying the need for skilled tradespeople in mining.

AMMA head of policy and public affairs Tom Reid says this anticipated need for plant operators reinforces that Australian mining companies consider automation as a tool to be used by people, rather than a reason to replace them.

“Automation will see some shift in the duties of specific roles, however the need for operators will remain,” Reid tells Australian Mining.

“It is important to note that for the majority of employers, automation is seen as a tool, not a substitute and will not lead to less people in the industry overall.

“Some sectors have seen successful roll-out of automated trucks, trains and some extraction and loading plant, but we are far from the point where technology is significantly reducing the need for operators across the sector.

“The potential job-creating benefits of automation and digitisation in the resources and energy sector is far outweighing any potential short-term disruption.”

This anticipated growth is based on statistics on 98 new mining projects, worth a combined $83.8 billion, being declared “committed” or “likely” by the Australian Department of Industry by 2026.

AMMA anticipates coal will be the largest driver of growth, with 22 projects forecast to create about 8000 new production jobs of the anticipated 24,000-plus.

This is followed by iron ore, which has nine projects expected to create just under 5000 jobs, with the bulk of growth in coal and iron ore expected to occur between 2021 and 2024.

Mining companies are hiring more apprentices to address skills gaps in the industry.

New and expansion gold projects are also set to create 3318 new production jobs, with nickel, lead, silver and copper trailing behind with modest forecasted growth.

AMMA also expects that the growing rare earths and critical minerals sector will introduce 18 new projects around Australia, creating a further 2600 production phase employees.

Despite recent trade tensions between Australia and China, Reid is confident this will only be a short-term concern and not impact coal’s long-term prospects.

“The current trade issues with China present a very serious concern for Australia’s coal producers. However, AMMA is confident the Australian Government is doing all it can to resolve this diplomatic issue,” Reid says.

“Despite confidence in the coal sector being hit by COVID-19 and a sustained decline in the commodity price, an example of this strength is highlighted by the coal industry workforce returning back to its November 2019 levels (of) circa 50,000 employees.”

AMMA’s workforce forecast is a tool to inform the mining industry of the upcoming potential skills demands to attract the next generation of talent.

Part of the plan is to increase the number of trainees and apprentices in mining roles and connecting with universities to give Australia access to diverse, well paid and rewarding careers in the resources sector.

As Australia’s largest resources sector employer group, part of AMMA’s role is to connect with university students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees.

“More trainees and apprentices, in particular equally encouraging both males and females to be skilled and upskilled in trades will be critical,” Reid says. “AMMA is proud to connect educators and students with STEM fields and the diverse and rewarding careers offered within the resources and energy sector through its Bright Future STEM primary schools program.

“We must continue positioning the sector as an industry of choice for school leavers.”

In addition to university students, the Australian mining industry requires skilled tradespeople, upping the need for apprentices in mining fields.

Gold Fields is not only working to attract skilled workers, but also to retain them within the company, supporting their employees to grow their careers at the company.

“Retention has been an area of focus for some time,” Gold Fields executive vice president: Australasia Stuart Mathews says.

“We have done a lot of work on building our brand in Western Australia and to make sure that our employee value proposition is well known across the country.

“Gold Fields has a strong focus on mental health and wellbeing, encouraging employees to participate in health initiatives and offering employee assistance programs and counselling services at all sites.”

Gold Fields also offers further training beyond formal apprenticeships for employees that want to further their skills in their chosen field and move up within the company.

Mathews says 38 per cent of its vacancies in 2020 were filled with internal movements within Gold Fields.

“Informal and formal training is always available for those who want to advance their careers,” Mathews explains.

“We always look to promote from within wherever possible when vacancies arise. Thirty-eight per cent of our vacancies last year were filled internally.”  

This story also appeared in the March issue of Australian Mining

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