Mining’s graduating workforce: A plug for the skills shortage drain

The skills shortages in Australia’s mining industry remains at unrelenting levels, and they’re expected to stay there for a while yet.

The Minerals Council of Australia has predicted the need for an additional 86,000 mining professionals and skilled mine workers by 2020.

But with all the griping over skills shortages, is there a different way to address mining’s gaping hole?

While the remote location of mines poses a challenge when attempting to attract talent, it can be overcome with wage hikes.

But as the likes of Gina Rinehart and the Queensland Resources Council [QRC] have stated the industry’s high wages are unsustainable and in the long term will render Australia’s mining sector uncompetitive by global standards.

Exorbitant wages are unsustainable for both majors and juniors but as it seems for different reasons.

The big players cannot continue to increase salaries year on year, and many juniors cannot afford to fork out such exorbitant salaries in the first place.

So if throwing cash at the skills shortage is unsustainable, how do miners attract the talent they require to run their operations?

The answer: Develop it.

Training local talent, sponsoring university programs, and cross training existing workers are all ways of recruiting whilst behaving in a socially responsible manner, Deloitte recently said in a statement.

Graduates: Mould young minds

graduates-300x197.jpgXstrata is one of many mining houses that have jumped on board the graduate train, developing iPad and mobile apps to make the recruitment process more targeted, attractive and simpler for the next generation of professionals.

Australian Mining spoke to Xstrata’s group human resources manager Jodie Hope about how the company is attacking graduate recruitment differently to its competitors.

Launched in early 2012, the Xstrata graduate app allows the company to provide real time communication to prospective applicants and has increased the amount of students the company has access to.

“Students are accessing the web more and more on their phones then on their pc’s, so the app has provided a huge return, we can communicate updates on our intake timetable, and on vacation and graduate programs,” she said.

Hope explained that the graduate app has enabled global communication and has significantly increased the quantity of candidates applying.

“One of our key targets was to increase the quantity of candidates,” she said.

“In terms of quantity there are only a certain amount of students graduating year on year, and it isn’t sufficient to meet the pipeline of all the tier one and tier two mining houses in Australia.

“As a result we’re competing for quality; the apps are also targeting the global market, including South Africa and the UK.”

Currently attracting quality mining graduates is highly competitive especially across engineering disciplines like mining, mechanical, electrical, metallurgical, chemical, and civil.

About 80 per cent of Xstrata’s graduate intake is from the engineering discipline.

“They [mining engineering graduate positions] are certainly difficult to fill,” Hope stated.

Around 150 to 160 engineering graduates are hired each year by Xstrata, they receive a permanent position with the company which includes a two year development program, and retention rates are between 90 to 95 per cent.

The company said it is really important that graduates have some level of experience through undergraduate studies; Xstrata takes on around 300 students in its paid summer vacation program.

“Around 50 per cent of the graduates we employ have already worked in our mining operations throughout their undergraduate studies,” Hope stated.

This program allows Xstrata to assess the fit of the graduate within the business, and assists the graduates to make a decision as to whether Xstrata is a good match for them.

Hope said when processing applications human resources looks for, amongst other qualities, a competitive academic record, strong work ethic and the demonstration of community involvement.

Community interaction through volunteer work, Hope said is a really important and a valuable element which is sometimes overlooked by graduates.

The way Xstrata markets their graduate program is what sets the company apart from other mining house graduate projects which Hope explains is a strategic move which will benefit the company down the track.

“Graduates are without a doubt the future leaders of our business,” she said.

“Graduates will be playing key managerial roles within the business certainly within that eight to ten year window beyond completing their graduate program.”

Resourceful graduates

Aside from university career fairs and industry visits graduates are also taking to social sites like Reddit to gather advice on applying for jobs in the sector.

Recent graduate mtarlo111 put his resume on Reddit for critique, the general consensus from other users was to keep your resume short and include grades, even if they’re low.

Aboriginal trainees

sam-walsh-aboriginal-picture.jpgNewly appointed Rio CEO Sam Walsh has through his tenure been at the forefront of the company’s Aboriginal traineeship program.

When he decided to offer every Aboriginal teenager who passed year 10 at school a traineeship with Rio Tinto he made executives nervous; they feared a mass of applications.

''I said, 'lets do the numbers','' Walsh told The Age

''As it turned out we were not opening the floodgates, the numbers were a manageable 1650; which to me was a seriously good response.''

The indigenous traineeship program has not only given Rio the status as the nation’s single largest employer of indigenous people, it has also won the company a number of awards including Australian Mining’s Employer of Choice Award last year.

The program teaches not only work skills but also life skills like finance management and wellbeing.

Around 80 per cent of indigenous apprentices and trainees make it through the company's recruiting system, and once complete there is no obligation for recruits to stay on with Rio.

''If they stay on and work for us, that is fantastic. If they do not, then at least they have had a good education and a good background in business behind them,'' Walsh said.

Women: An unmined resource

northparkes-danika.bmpRio Tinto’s Northparkes' ore processing technical superintendent Danica Clarke graduated from James Cook University with a bachelor of chemical engineering.

Clarke said her class was made up of a ratio of four females to every one male.

On the flip side she explained that the mechanical and electrical engineering streams were very male dominated.

“Environmental and chemical are still seen more so as female engineering roles,” she said.

Clarke told Australian Mining that women do really well in mining, and if a female has the drive and the passion they will succeed in the industry.

“I love it, you have to be able to stand up for yourself because it still is a male dominated industry and it can often be a hard place to work but I think it is a really good career,” Clarke said.

Clarke added that working in a male dominated industry has had its ups and downs.

“It’s been an interesting journey, some men will respect you whether you’re male or female it on your merits,” she said.

Australian Mining recently visited Northparkes copper and gold mine, located about 25 kilometres from the New South Wales town of Parkes, what was interesting to see was the amount of women working at the facility.

northparkes-stef-loader.jpgSpeaking to the mine’s managing director Stef Loader, she said women make up about 17 to 18 per cent of the Northparkes workforce but conceded that figure could be improved.

Strategies include implementing models of employment that are less than full time and getting the word out there.

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