Recruitment strategies transition as market conditions turn

Recruitment and human resources strategies continue to evolve in the Australia mining industry.

In a turnaround from the past, mining companies are now willing to recruit personnel with no previous experience in the industry, according to recruitment agency Hays.

This situation has been caused by the emergence of certain skills shortages, with renewed optimism in the mining market and improved sales prices increasing vacancy activity.

According to research from Hays, mass redundancies and the uncertainty of previous years has driven much of mining’s blue collar workforce into alternative industries closer to home.

Many of these workers have been satisfied to trade reduced wages for improved lifestyles.

This is evident in locations like North Queensland, Hays reported, and it may be “challenging” to entice these former mine workers back to the industry.

As a result, some mining employers are now considering candidates with no mining experience.

Hays WA state regional director Chris Kent said the strategy of recruiting workers with no previous mining experience was helping to address a couple of things.

“One, they want new ideas so they are particularly interested in candidates without mining experience that bring other skills, so it is not necessarily (candidates) without professional experience,” Kent said.

“They might have experience in another sector, whether it be oil and gas or manufacturing, or another sector that has some similar challenges.”

He said it might also help mining companies increase their diversity.

“It might enable them to open up their diversity a little bit, so there might be a fantastic engineer from the oil and gas sector that is female. And maybe they are a little more open to reskilling and retraining,” Kent said.

Roy Hill recruitment

Iron ore miner Roy Hill has already moved in the direction of recruiting workers with little or no previous mining experience, and openly pursues these candidates on its company website.

Roy Hill, which is led by Gina Rinehart, states that its recruitment focus is more on candidates with complementary values and attributes rather than having the previous experience in this industry.

“We’re changing the way we recruit at Roy Hill. Our focus isn’t just on mining, or people with mining experience – we’re on the lookout for people whose values and attributes align with ours,” the company explains on its website.

“We’ll nurture you through support, training and learning. We’ll give you jobs we know you’ll be good at to set you up for success. And we’ll reward you fairly.”

Kent said the trade-off to recruiting people with no mining experience was that it also created more opportunities for temporary or contract workers, who helped with the reskilling of rookie miners.

“Those people that come into the industry without experience need to be trained and mentored so it is meaning that you couldn’t have a strategy solely looking at people without experience without balancing it out by bringing in experience on a contract or casual basis to skill it up,” Kent said.

“Roy Hill has had some publicity around bringing people in without mining experience – they have been doing it on a permanent basis. They are looking to bring in mining experience through casual workers and contractors.”

Emerging skills shortages

Data from recruitment portal SEEK supports that mining has become a more vibrant environment for employment.

The mining, resources and energy sector is driving growth in job advertising with SEEK, registering a 90 per cent improvement year on year across the country up to the end of May. Opportunities for engineers were 31 per cent higher year on year.

“The big surprise has been the strength of the Western Australian labour market,” said SEEK managing director Michael Ilczynski.

“Advertising on SEEK across the state increased 16.1 per cent y/y in May, which is eight consecutive months of positive advertising growth on SEEK. This continued growth indicates that WA appears to be finding its feet after a prolonged period of weakness.”

The mining, resources and energy sector has been crucial in the resurgence of the labour market in WA with a 96 per cent improvement compared with a year earlier.

This turnaround is leading to the potential for skills shortages, something that has not been the case for mining since the construction boom.

For example, Hays has found that geologists are now in high demand in WA, with its gold sector the major driver as explorations budgets have increased.

In turn, this has led to more vacancies for drill and blast specialists and metallurgists, with employers seeking cross-discipline candidates.

“Geologists were hit really hard (in the downturn). You might have found a lot of Uber drivers in Perth and Brisbane that had geology degrees at one point,” Kent said.

“It’s nice that area is picking up – there are plenty of good geologists out there and often now they are working.

“They might not be working on their perfect project or in their optimal region where they live, but they are working again and that is an exciting sign because it means that the industry is exploring again and spending a bit of CAPEX.”

Diversity in demand

Despite mining human resources strategies being in transition, a constant in the industry is companies developing more diverse workforces – a key demand that emerged following the construction boom.

Most major miners remain focused on diversifying their workforce to include a greater proportion of female and Indigenous employees, which in turn improves their social license and widens their candidate pool.

“The last couple of years in particular the attraction has been around diverse candidates, getting the female and indigenous workforce up in the mining space,” Kent said.

“They have been able to be quite selective and prescriptive on hiring.”

However, Kent said the diversity strategy also needed to evolve.

“Speaking from a WA perspective, we are now at the point that we need to fully address diversity requirements within a business – we have not got diverse candidates sitting around looking for work, most of them are already engaged,” Kent explained.

“I think that problem needs to be addressed more so through training and apprenticeships. It requires marketing from communities more so than us scouring the market to find available candidates.”

There are signs that the industry is aware that more training and apprenticeships programs are required to increase diversity in mining. For example, iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group celebrated the graduation of the first all-female class at its Vocational Training and Employment Centre (VTEC) in June.