Managing the skills shortage

The mining industry skills shortage, how are you managing it or is it managing you? James Walsh writes for Australian Mining.

The mining industry skills shortage, how are you managing it or is it managing you? James Walsh writes for Australian Mining.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as of December 2007 there were about 136,500 people currently employed in the mining industry.

Over the last five years we have seen substantial job growth in this sector resulting in 55,400 (68.3%) more jobs becoming available. It is projected that this rapid growth will start to slow over the coming 5 years. However, there is still a predicted growth of 21,400 new jobs per year.

Recently, Australia has seen a massive decline in the number of skilled professionals available for new career opportunities within the mining industry. This is as a direct result of strong rates of economic growth with low unemployment, and growth within the already established resources industry without suitably trained professionals available.

A lack of interest among job seekers in the mining industry at all levels, and changes of technology within industry sectors that require the retraining of current employees, also account for the decline in skilled professionals.

As well as the above, Australia now has an ageing population crisis whereby a huge number of professionals currently working in the mining sector are baby boomers. In an article published by the Australian Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, it was estimated that in November 2005, 34% of those employed in the mining industry were aged 45 to 64 years. With this era of blue and white collar worker reaching retirement age we now see more people leaving the industry than joining. These issues are now emerging as a major problem for companies at the forefront of the Australian resources boom.

In an ever increasing competitive world, companies and hiring managers need to come up with specific strategies in order to combat the skills shortage. Employers must have an inventive, ‘think outside the box’ approach around recruitment and retention of staff. What are your unique selling points from a company perspective to a potential employee? Why should a candidate choose to work for your company over the opposition?

As a recruiter, I am often engaged to ‘headhunt’ a specific type of candidate from a competitor. In this type of employment market, hiring managers are seeing this as a necessary recruitment strategy to ensure that their headcount pressures are eased. To avoid your staff leaving to go to a competitor you need to be seen as an employer of choice who is able to provide more than just a job. I am starting to see many different and creative approaches by companies to retain their current skilled staff.

As well as retention it is vital to look at what a company does to source new employees to their business. Graduate recruitment drives and career advancement are only the tip of the iceberg. I am currently working with various companies who are now investing heavily in marketing programs targeted to increase their ‘top of mind awareness’ both locally and overseas to attract a wider variety of skilled workers.

As the market tightens, employers not only need to be more flexible when looking at where they source candidates from but also be more focused on their initial recruitment practises to ensure that the person hired meets not only the skill set of the position but is also a correct fit in relation to company culture. Another consideration that needs to be assessed is how much does the vacant seat actually cost the company in lost production? Is your growth strategy and financial targets suffering as a result of not being able to find suitable employees?

As Australia continues to ride the resources boom and with record low unemployment figures, the skills shortage will definitely worsen. It is now time to take a proactive approach to ensure that our industry continues to move forward and prosper under such favourable economic conditions. With all this to consider, what tools can you utilise to ensure that you are attracting and maintaining staff in such a tough market? During the Mine Managers conference in October, I will be presenting a range of innovative and creative ideas directed at hiring managers and executives that will assist in combating the skills shortage. I look forward to seeing you all there!

James Walsh

Engineering Services Consultant

People Intelligence

02 8226 7128

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