Skills shortages are affecting every aspect of the mining industry.
While the resource sector is booming the quality and quantity of workers is not.
Tradespeople to technicians are few and far between.
Major global companies such as BHP Billiton and Xstrata as well as junior explorers and small hopefuls are looking to contractors and consultants to help them solve their worker shortage.
The mining companies ‘in-house’ resources are being stretched to the brink and as such companies are forced to outsource part of their business.
Outsourcing has become second nature to mining companies over the last few years and as miners rejoice in the continuing boom so do contractors which mirror their fortune.
Bilfinger Berger Services (BBS) executive director for engineering and construction Robert Fletcher told Australian Mining that contract mining services are in demand more than ever.
“Our view is that there will continue to be a high demand for resources, very much driven by the growth in India and China,” he said.
BBS is a supplier to contract miners and employs more than 2000 people specialising in various areas from asset management and design engineering to tradespeople.
“We design, build, operate and maintain. We will not only build a conveyor plant but we will stay there and maintain it for fifty years if that is what the client wants,” Fletcher said.
A working crisis
By far the biggest issue plaguing the Australian mining industry at the moment is the skills shortage crisis and the lack of trainees and apprentices rising up the ranks.
Fletcher believes that in the long term better training programs need to be implemented.
“Training supported by industry is obviously fundamental in this, but running in parallel are ways to attract and retain people.
“With low unemployment the construction industry must compete for people and many employees are not merely looking at the pay packet, but also issues relating to quality of life,” he said.
In response to the current skills shortage, Leighton Contractors sub-company HWE Mining has introduced the Trainee Safety Co-ordinator Program.
The program recognises ‘in-house’ employment opportunities by providing structured training to existing employees who wish to become qualified safety professionals.
Leighton Contractors mining division executive general manager Craig Laslett told Australian Mining recruiting ‘in-house’ was beneficial to employer and employee.
“Programs like this enable us to become less dependent on the market and gives us greater choice and flexibility when it comes to finding the right people for the job in what is undeniably a candidate short market,” he said.
“We can offer employees supportive training and professional development opportunities, access to mentorship from subject experts and a genuine career path with Leighton contractors.”
Bridging the gap
The longevity of the mining boom has made contract mining more relationship based where clients and contractors work closely together as a team to achieve greater outcomes.
“Clients are looking for a rapid response from their contractor,” Fletcher said.
“The product needs to be mined as quickly as possible so that the company can capitalise on current world opportunities.
A few years ago clients were looking to minimise costs wherever possible. Now producing a product quickly is just as important as minimising costs,”he said.
BBS has over 60 year’s customer service experience which plays an integral role in the company’s makeup.
Since 2005, BBS has worked with Macquarie University to put out a subjective questionnaire to measure customer satisfaction and help identify customer service weaknesses.
“With expertise from asset management to design engineering, construction contracting, and operations and maintenance services, we have our fingers in many pies. But there is one thing that carries across all our business — relationships,” Fletcher said.
Because of the heightened need for contract miners, mining companies can afford to be scrupulous.
As such, contract mining companies are implementing new initiatives that will encourage good customer relations and customer loyalty.
Avko Mining was the 2007 Australian Mining Prospect Awards Contract Miner of the Year recipient.
Avko Mining developed an approach to innovation that encouraged employees across the company to submit innovative ideas to managers.
Avko Mining’s general manager Steve Durkin told Australian Mining that while this initiative continues to be implemented another innovative idea is currently in production.
“We are in the process of developing a reward/recognition system which we plan to roll out in April,” Durkin said.
Although the mining industry is currently enjoying a boom in resources, the lack of skilled workers available has formed a dark cloud that is threatening prosperity.
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