Good job, good pay

The necessity of foreign workers is now a harsh reality for mining companies.

They’re increasingly becoming the only alternative against delays and cost blowouts, and will soon be a common occurrence across Australian sites.

While we’ve typically looked to the UK and Ireland to find workers, the Government’s Skills Australia Needs Expo in Houston last month targeted United States workers.

An uncommon sight on Austra­lian mines compared to their ­European counterparts, US workers represent an attractive prospect for local companies.

A region with a strong skills base suffering economic downturn, many stakeholders are looking to the US to become part of a solution to Australia’s skills shortage.

But before US workers start streaming onshore, the Government and recruiters have identified key issues that need solving.

Education

New Latitude director Josh Dundon, who represented a number of Australian resources companies in Houston earlier this year, told Australian Mining he’d previously traveled the US looking for workers.

He said a key problem in sourcing US talent was a lack of awareness about the possibilities in Australia.

“My overall finding was that we need to educate workers about the opportunities that are here,” Dundon explained.

“There’s no knowledge about Australia in general and there’s certainly no knowledge of any kind of boom happening.

“Most people over there have never considered that there might be an opportunity to work in Australia.”

Recognition

After ensuring awareness Dundon said two important changes, lead by the Government, would make it easier for companies to source US citizens.

The first change was simplifying the visa application process, which the Government has already announced its intention to change.

The second, and more important, was recognising skills before workers made it onshore.

“The big thing that scares people from coming here to work is that they risk coming here and waiting a long period for their skills to be recognised,” Dundon said.

Dundon told Australian Mining the Government had been at work to make changes to skills recognition, and a new system would be in place from 1 July.

Culture

A final problem to getting workers on site is the cultural difference between Australia and the US.

Dundon said geographical distance, as well as difficulties in how US citizens viewed far-off countries like Australia, needed to be addressed.

But he said these problems would likely solve themselves over time, and were already less of an issue in the younger generation.

“Australia is probably the furthest place in some people’s minds because it takes the best part of 30 hours for your average inland American to travel to Australia,” he said.

“And there are some cultural differences, but if you compare those to the differences in South East Asia and places like that, then I would confidently say we are more culturally aligned.”

The expo

With all of that in mind, Dundon told Australian Mining his trip to Houston as part of the Skills Australia Needs expo was more about education than signing contracts.

“Our primary focus is educating workers on the opportunity and making sure that they walk away with the correct information,” he stated.

Dundon while he didn’t rule out New Latitude or other recruiters signing up workers on the spot, the expo was more about building lists and contacts to then follow-up on.

“At the end of the day there’s a due diligence process that any employer would be required to follow,” he said.

“We need to know who we’re potentially putting in front of our clients.”

“I don’t expect that to be a long drawn-out process, but I don’t think signing someone up on the spot would allow us to do that.”

The targets

Dundon said New Latitude was targeting a mix of blue and white collar workers in Houston.

He said as well as resources the company was focused on construction workers, as the industry was also suffering a shortage caused by the mining boom.

But one thing all workers will have in common is experience.

All US attendees at the Houston expo were registered and prescreened, with no workers turning up out of pure curiosity.

Like in Australia, the focus will be on workers with skills and experience, workers companies are having trouble finding locally.

In hiring foreign workers Dundon said his views were consistent with the Government’s in that “the primary focus is always ensuring the correct amount of investment in ­local skills training”.

“I certainly don’t promote my business in a way that we are only focused, narrow mindedly, on engaging Americans into Australia,” he said.

Dundon said some of the broader issues in the labour market, including the cost of training and the high rate of attrition, meant it was often unattractive for employers to invest heavily in training.

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