Mining professionals feel the heat

As the production capacity of Australia’s mining industry continues to expand, with a record $70.5 billion in projects either committed or under construction, the professionals who work in the industry are feeling the heat.

As the production capacity of Australia’s mining industry continues to expand, with a record $70.5 billion in projects either committed or under construction, the professionals who work in the industry are feeling the heat. According to the 2008 AusIMM Remuneration and Employment Survey – the most comprehensive analysis of remuneration trends, work practices and attitudes of professionals in the minerals sector — the skills shortage has resulted in escalating salaries and more flexible work practices, but also longer working hours.

According to AusIMM Chief Executive Michael Catchpole, the survey shows that the skills shortage has several related effects on companies and employees.

“There have been minor gains in retention overall, but our members’ view is that Australia’s professional skills base is stretched to capacity,” Catchpole said.

The evidence of a dire skills shortage remains unchanged from the previous surveys, undertaken in 2005 and 2007.

In the latest survey, approximately two thirds of respondents agreed that people at their workplace are under more pressure because of the skills shortage (68.4%), that the skills shortage had left them short staffed (64.5%) or that the skills shortage has meant their employer now pays more for less experienced personnel (66.8).

Salary data is consistent with this view, with an increase of 6.3% in the average salary for all respondents since 2007, to approximately $159,000.

The highest increase in salary was at graduate commencement level, with an increase of 9.2%.

“A salary analysis has also shown that the rewards of the mining boom are not spread equally between the genders, with an escalating gender pay gap at the different levels of responsibility in the industry,” Catchpole said.

“The gender pay gap at Level 1 (graduate commencement level) is 2.9%; at Level 3, the experienced professional level, it is 8.2%; but at Level 4, the senior executive level, the gender pay gap is a staggering 32.3%.

“Addressing this gender pay gap is a key priority for The AusIMM. The 2008 Survey included additional questions to try to uncover the reasons behind the current inequity in pay. We are also seeking to identify underlying causes for the static low participation of women in mining.

“The survey included a section on caring responsibilities. Almost three in 10 respondents are carers for someone, usually a child. Of those who are carers, four out of 10 indicated that their caring responsibilities necessitated a change in career situation.”

Respondents were also asked about their work life balance, flexibility and professional development.

Around three quarters (73.7%) agreed that their company offered flexibility with working hours to deal with personal commitments.

More than three quarters indicated they would be able to have a phone at work to use for family reasons (83.4%), flexible start and finish times (81.7%) and the chance to work from home sometimes (77.5%). Professionals are working much longer hours in the current climate of skills shortage, with 73% indicating that they work more than 50 hours per week compared with only 53% in the 2007 Survey.

The number of respondents who work at least one hour of overtime per week has jumped from 53% to 64%.

On average, respondents work six hours of overtime per week.

With high numbers of professionals experiencing work pressures, there appears to be less time available for mentoring or formal professional development.

Only one quarter agreed that their workplace had an effective mentoring system (27%), or that their working lifestyle allowed sufficient time to undertake additional study (26%).

Retention of employees appears to have increased slightly from the previous two surveys, possibly due to higher salaries and flexible work options now being offered.

The percentage of respondents who indicated that it was likely that they would change employer in the next two years decreased from 38.8% in 2005 to 28.3% in 2008.

Additional issues such as the role of migration and an aging skills base were also canvassed in The AusIMM survey.

Results showed that migrants are an important source of professional skills for the sector, with a quarter of respondents indicating that they are migrants to Australia.

Meanwhile, the industry is poised to suffer a significant loss of professional skills due to the aging population, with more than a third of respondents (31.3%) indicated that the aging workforce is already an issue at their workplace.

“Companies are clearly rising to the challenge of a dire professional skills shortage with a mix of strategies, including salary increases, flexible work policies, temporary skilled migration and a range of policies aimed at increasing the participation of women and indigenous people,” Catchpole said.

“Many of the issues around a sustainable workforce for the long term go beyond what individual companies can reasonably address. The AusIMM urges the Government to undertake long term planning for the professional skills needs of the sector — that is higher education-qualified professionals — to ensure that we have the educational capital to continue to drive our leading exporter earner.”

Policy measures recommended to be undertaken as a matter of urgency include:

  • Increasing support for minerals related higher education to sustainable levels
  • Implementing Government-funded parental leave scheme
  • Removing the Fringe Benefits Tax on all employer sponsored childcare
  • Reviewing measures to support health needs of aging Australians at rural and regional sites
  • Ensuring that increases to Temporary Skilled Migration Scheme intakes occur within the context of an overall professional skills strategy for the sector

The AusIMM survey was carried out by Insightrix Research and had a response rate of 25.8%. This represents a reliable sample of the 7,335 AusIMM members who were eligible to complete the survey.

The 2008 AusIMM Remuneration and Employment Survey can be purchased from The AusIMM Online Shop at: www.ausimm.com.au/shop.

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