Rethinking what makes mining attractive as a career

A survey of young Australians has a trio of industry bodies now considering different approaches for how to make mining a career choice for young people. Ben Creagh writes.

Technology’s expanding role in mining was meant to be one of the key lures that would attract the next generation of workers to the industry. Think again.

For today’s young people, it seems that technology has become so commonplace in their lives that it is taken for granted when they consider a future career. This finding is a key outcome of a survey of young Australians backed by METS Ignited, the Minerals Council of Australia and the AusIMM.

The survey, by research agency YouthInsight, asked 1061 senior high school students and first-year university students aged between 15 and 20 a series of questions about the mining industry.

For the trio of industry bodies, it revealed that Australian mining and mining supply companies need to do more to raise awareness of the industry amongst young Australians to build the workforce of the future.

The research shows that knowledge of mining careers is extremely low, with 59 per cent of young people knowing nothing at all about mining careers. In addition, only 30 per cent of students have an interest in a career in mining or the mining equipment, technology and services (METS) sectors.

METS Ignited general manager – education and leadership skills, Sarah Boucaut, says the survey findings provide a “wake-up call” for several reasons, including the importance of technology as part of a career for today’s youth.

“We thought the fact that mining and METS were heavily technology driven nowadays, where we use data analytics, robotics and automation, would be a big drawcard,” Boucaut tells Australian Mining.

“But that actually has a very low level of importance, which represents a huge gap from people in their 50s and above, who are always saying ‘wow, look at how technology enabled the industry is.’

“Students that are 18 to 20 are instead saying ‘of course it is technology enabled, it’s 2018, everything is technology enabled.’”

Boucaut says the revelation about technology has the industry bodies reconsidering how its role in mining is being marketed to young people, if it needs to be at all.

Instead, Boucaut believes young people are better off being educated about the role mining plays in creating modern-day technologies, such as smart phones, electric vehicles (EVs) and home appliances.

“There was a low level of connection between how mining links into things like iPhones, fridges, bicycles and houses … there was just a lack of personal relevance,” Boucaut says.

The research found that mining’s high incomes generated the most interest (48 per cent) in a career from students. The number of jobs and opportunities in mining was also attractive to some students (20 per cent).

Boucaut says job security is another aspect of a career that young people are looking for, something that is also a surprise.

“We expected students to be looking for flexibility, but what we found in terms of importance when we asked them to rank this, was that job security was the highest ranking criteria, followed by a fun working environment and roles for graduates,” Boucaut says.

“It was a long way down until we got to having flexible working conditions — we found that surprising.”

The low consideration the respondents have of a mining career is driven by a lack of knowledge, according to the survey, with many saying, “It’s not an industry I’ve ever thought about” (45 per cent), and, “I don’t know anything about mining” (40 per cent).

Despite the high percentage of students having low knowledge about mining, Boucaut says this represents an opportunity that the industry needs to seize.

“That is actually quite good,” she says. “When you think about how you are going to attract people into the industry, and if you have 60 per cent saying I will never work in that industry because of what it ethically means to them, then you would have a much harder battle than if you are dealing with people that don’t know anything about it.”

Encouragingly, Australian mining and mining services employers are described as “important to the Australian economy” by 63 per cent of respondents.

More than half of the students believe mining is “important to Australia’s future” (52 per cent), while a good portion recognise the industry uses leading-edge technology (35 per cent), provides lots of opportunity (35 per cent) and is innovative (34 per cent).

The research achieved so far represents the quantitative part of the investigation into mining careers for the industry bodies; they plan to deliver a qualitative report on the findings later this year.

The survey results were released at the MCA Minerals Education Summit in Melbourne during May, which brought together leaders from industry, academia and government, as well as students and graduates, to consider the future minerals workforce.

We thought the fact that mining and METS were heavily technology driven nowadays, where we use data analytics, robotics and automation, would be a big drawcard

MCA minerals tertiary education council executive director Gavin Lind says the survey helps them understand the career preferences for the future workforce and address the misconceptions about a career in the industry.

“Our industry has a great story to tell – our high-skill, high-wage workforce is younger, better-paid, better trained and has a much higher share of apprentices than other sectors, with average full-time weekly pay of $2610, 67 per cent higher than the all-industries average,” Lind says.

“We need to tell our story better to make young people and their parents aware of the tremendous opportunities on offer, including world-leading innovation.”

Australia’s METS are well positioned to take a lead in this area, with SMEs like Dingo demonstrating the innovative and high tech opportunities being offered by companies in this sector.

METS Ignited chief executive officer Ric Gros says it’s time for the industry to work smarter to make young people aware of the exciting and rewarding careers on offer in Australia and around the globe.

“Australia’s world-class METS sector will need many highly-skilled young people to fill the jobs of tomorrow including drone pilots, environmental and social scientists and engineers,” Gros says.

“The jobs are there – areas of the METS sector such as information and communication technologies and professional and technical services saw 164 per cent job growth between 2005 and 2015.”

As a representative body for 65,000 professionals working in the resources sector, the AusIMM recognises the importance of education in the industry, according to CEO Stephen Durkin. The AusIMM has established the Education Endowment Fund, which provides students with the support to study towards a minerals industry career and build the professional workforce of the future.

“The future of the resources sector relies on students continuing to be attracted to the immense opportunities for professionals in the minerals industry,” Durkin says.

“As the employment needs of the sector change with ground-breaking innovation, selling the diversity of careers and pathways available is a key priority of the AusIMM.

“From finance students to those studying software engineering, this study will help inform and position the mining industry as a desirable career option.”

This article also appears in the July edition of Australian Mining.

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