The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) has called for a reform of Australia’s higher education system and for outdated workplace relations laws to be fixed to build the future workforce in the industry.
In a submission to the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers Inquiry, the MCA outlined a range of reforms to attract and retain the skilled workers that it believes will maintain Australia’s comparative advantage in minerals.
With innovative technology such as automation, drones, robotics and artificial intelligence changing the face of the modern mining sector, MCA interim executive director David Byers said the future success of the minerals industry would depend on highly skilled and technologically-literate experts, including operators, engineers, environmental scientists and geologists.
“Australia’s minerals industry is a world leader in innovation and developing and adopting transformative technology from commercialising froth flotation for minerals recovery in the 1860s in Broken Hill to introducing remote control iron ore trucks in Pilbara in the 2000s,” Byers said.
“The mining sector spends nearly $3 billion on research and development every year – or nearly $1 in every $6 of business R&D spending in Australia – and accounts for the largest industry share of high-growth micro start-up businesses.”
In a survey of MCA member companies, 70 per cent of respondents cited R&D and adoption of new technologies as important or very important to achieving future improvements in productivity.
“Yet it will be difficult for the sector to find the highly-skilled workers it needs to take advantage of new technology and innovation without action by government,” Byers added.
The MCA submission proposed reforms include:
- Reforming the education system as recommended by the Productivity Commission to support skills formation linked to an open, high-quality education system to prepare people with the right skills for technology adoption, use and diffusion
- Stronger accountability mechanisms to ensure increased university fee revenue is devoted to teaching and student services
- Modernising the workplace by confining permitted content in enterprise agreements to direct employment matters, reforming greenfields agreements to encourage investment in new projects and rebalancing rigid union right-of-entry provisions which allow for undue interference and disruption.
MCA members have invested more than $50 million across 17 universities in the last decade in collaborative programs to ensure supply of Australian graduates, according to the organisation.