Production phase means more maintenance mining jobs

After the release of the Hays Quarterly report for Jan-March 2015, Australian Mining spoke with the recruiter’s national head of mining, Chris Kent, for an in-depth, labour hire perspective on the state of the industry.

With 30 mining personnel consultants around the country, dealing in both blue and white collar roles, Hays regularly updates the state-of-the-nation with a quarterly report into current job market trends.

The construction has well and truly over, as anyone paying attention could tell you, but due to completion of projects leading to massively increased production levels, this of course means there’s now a lot more processing plant in operation that requires maintenance, and that means more shutdowns.

Hays head of mining Chris Kent said there are a lot of shutdowns happening at the moment, meaning increasing demand for tradespeople, and especially for hard-to-source shutdown planners capable of streamlining the maintenance process.

“During the skills shortages a couple of years ago there were a lot of people without much shutdown experience on those jobs, but right now the trend is for employers to be a bit fussy and make sure workers already have shutdown experience and relevant inductions,” Kent said.

“Another trend we’re seeing is that some of those operators are looking to do their own shuts rather than source through a contractor.

“By cutting out subcontractors, operators are able to cut one layer of margin from their maintenance costs.”

Kent noted that companies confident in the price of their commodities are hiring permanent staff while they can secure them with reasonable salaries.

“We’re finding that it’s also companies with long term projects that are looking to transfer people from a contract basis on to their permanent books, and we’ve certainly seen that in the last 12 months in Western Australian iron ore,” he said.

“So while there’s been redundancies, a lot of these have been casual employees that they didn’t see ongoing work for, but for those with ongoing roles companies have been looking at securing those workers permanently.”

Other roles of importance are those related to logistics and materials control, and with miners always rehiring workers with those skills, companies are taking them on permanently to cut out labour hire costs.

For small to medium operators and explorers, Kent said the situation seemed to be the reverse.

“They’re looking at increasing contract work because they are unsure about their medium to long term future and a bit hesitant about hiring permanently,” he said.

“As a company we are paying more contractors than we did in the boom.

“We are essentially a sub-contractor within the industry, and we have margin pressure as would any other sort of contractor, and companies are looking to get more from us for their dollar.

“That’s what all subcontractors are trying to do, but where they can’t save the company money, that’s when the company looks at bringing those roles in-house, and the small to medium operators just can’t afford to do that, and are more likely to use subcontractors on a short term basis.”

Kent said Hays consultants are seeing sentiment improving in the goldfields, with good testing results coming out of companies like Northern Star, and companies who are still exploring.

“That’s important because it gives people faith in the future of the industry,” he said.

“Sentiment is certainly improving there and we’re seeing our fair share of job flow coming from the gold fields, especially for gold process technicians, and other processing roles: it’s a good sign.”

Kent also said there had started to be a slight increase in roles for geologists, but last December had negative sentiment around commodity prices.

“We’re yet to see what comes of that, especially with the exploration incentives and royalty rebates put out by the WA government: They’re doing what they can to support the industry,” he said.

“Exploration is stable at the moment: companies like FMG have announced that they wanted to halve their capex spending last month, but they didn’t cut the exploration budget, so there’s a bit to read into that.

“Northern Star still have $50 million in their exploration budget, so there’s positive stories out there, it just depends how the company has been run over the past few years.”

For people looking for new careers, whether out of school or out of another industry, the best white collar roles to look at in the medium term and beyond the current cycle of commodities are those relating to automation, cost engineering, and innovation in general, according to Kent.

“Mining is still quite a long way behind the rest of the world in innovation, I think, and with the trends such as automated trucks that’s only going to get further developed,” he said.

“On the IT side of mining, IT in relation to heavy industrials will be worth considering, and these will be transferrable skills between mining, oil and gas, and other industrial sectors such as manufacturing.”

In relation to blue collar roles, the current market cycle of operations and maintenance dominates the requirements for key positions in the industry.

“Even if they do go down heavily technology oriented path, such as with automated trucks, someone still has to maintain them and make sure they can get back on the roads, so that means we’ll need mechanical and diesel fitters, and electrical and instrumentation technicians,” Kent said.

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