Geoscience community in unemployment crisis

Geoscientist unemployment has continued to soar in 2015, with the lowest employment levels seen in the industry since 2009.

A new employment report from the Australian Institute of Geoscientists (AIS) showed unemployment at the end of June was down to 15.2 per cent, from 15.5 per cent in December 2014, however underemployment jumped 3 per cent to 19.9 per cent of geoscientists unable to find adequate work.

Overall 35.1 per cent of respondents were found to be unemployed or underemployed, the highest level since the Global Financial Crisis, when 31.3 per cent of geoscientists were unable to find adequate work.

The AIS has expressed concern that the decrease in employment for Australia’s geoscientists will have a significant impact on the capabilities and experience of Australia’s geoscientific community.

AIG council member and former president Andrew Waltho said members were concerned about the significant decline in mineral exploration employment, with a 15.5 per cent swing against employment in the field.

“Having 35% of a profession struggling to secure work over a period of several years must have an impact,” Waltho said.

“This is borne out by the number of respondents indicating that they are seeking permanent work outside their chosen profession increasing every time AIG runs an instalment in this survey series.”

With 626 respondents from around the country, the survey represented around one in twelve of Australia’s geoscientists, however Tasmania turned out so few respondents it was difficult to provide valid analysis of the state.

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The geoscience employment survey has been running since 2009, and showed both unemployment and underemployment levels have been on a significant path of increase since mid-2012.

Among the unemployed respondents, 17 per cent had lost their employment in the second quarter 2015, while 35 per cent had been unemployed for 12 months or more.

Sentiment is also at its lowest level since 2009, with 4.5 per cent of professional geoscientists considering leaving the profession permanently, almost double the highest level recorded before the latest survey.

Only 43 per cent of employed geoscientist were confident of retaining their positions over the next year.

AIG president Wayne Spilsbury said that while geoscientists were aware of the cyclical nature of their employment, the latest downturn was without precedent in the memories of today’s professionals.

“What’s particularly disconcerting is that loss of employment opportunities in minerals exploration is really starting to bite, not just in terms of the level of exploration activity, but in what this means for a whole range of things,” Spilsbury said.

The AIS president said the downturn meant decrease in the pipeline of projects, loss of corporate memory  in terms of maintaining productivity, deterioration of innovation and development in exploration, and the loss of quality geoscientists who should help to mentor and develop the next generation of professionals.

Government exploration funding initiatives were expected to provide some means of maintaining the mineral exploration sector.

“Federal and State Government initiatives to promote exploration need to be given a chance to be proven to be effective in arresting the decline in exploration activity evident in Australia for the past three years,” he said.

“We need solid, well targeted actions to improve the attractiveness of exploration investment and enable companies to use that investment productively, rather than negotiating an ever-deepening mire of red tape in relation to securing access to land for exploration in particular.”

Spilsbury said bipartisan support was required at state and federal levels to ensure legislation was effective and equitable to enable access to land for exploration, so that companies could take advantage of Exploration Development Incentive funding.

“There is also a discussion needed on extending to self-employed geoscientists, those tax provisions| that specifically cater for those groups that consistently face cyclical, irregular employment,” he said.

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