Skills Strategy a worthy approach

WITH a chronic skills shortage in the mining industry many things have been said and written, but outcomes have been few and far between.

With a chronic skills shortage in the mining industry many things have been said and written, but outcomes have been few and far between.

When the Mining Industry Skills Centre released late last year a strategy report on the way the Australian mining industry should approach training and workforce planning for the future I thought here we go again, another report on the skills crisis. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

The strategy Securing the Critical Capability — Towards an holistic skills strategy for the mining industry has been developed through extensive consultation with industry, Government and key external stakeholders.

The report not only outlines the current issues facing the Australian mining industry, it provides detailed, strategic solutions. There’s a strong focus on decreasing employee turnover, providing consistent, quality training throughout the mining industry and ensuring the development of a highly skilled and sustainable workforce.

Closely aligned to the industry’s needs the Centre has actually worked through a range of strategies to get to the point of having the skills strategy developed, which is about identifying skill shortages by skill set.

Over the next 18 months, the Centre will be closely working with industry to implement that strategy.

There are a few notable concepts to the strategy that makes it unique.

Firstly, the strategy is holistic and integrated in its approach; it’s not a report based on one aspect of the skilling system or training or education. It looks at the mining workforce as a whole and all the processes and planning in developing a sustainable workforce.

Secondly, it’s a whole-of-industry approach. Much work’s gone into engaging industry and stakeholders to ensure that strategies have industry-wide support. Too many companies are working on their own to try and solve their skilling issues. Any approach or initiative is much more powerful if it has whole-of-industry support.

Thirdly, the strategy clearly shows what needs to be done, what the timelines are and the goals are so that there are genuine outcomes associated with the work.

The skills strategy is divided into two main sections: workforce planning and workforce development.

Workforce planning is about ensuring the industry the industry can attract the appropriate numbers of people and retain them. To achieve that, there are projects linked to the skills strategy. The first is the Heartbeat Project which is about identifying what sort of numbers of people the industry needs and the shortfall for particular skill sets.

There’s a focus on career pathways for all the job roles that are relevant for the mining industry.

The other main area is workforce development which is about ensuring that the personnel on a mine site have the skills and knowledge to work productively and safely. That includes a range of sub-projects such as working with education and training providers.

Currently, those relationships aren’t firmly developed, and there is a key role for the MISC in establishing those relationships.

Working with mine sites to develop the most efficient training systems possible to upskill people is another key element of the strategy.

For small operators struggling to attract, train and retain skilled personnel there is good news and there is bad news.

The bad news is that strong competition for skilled labour is set to continue.

The good news is that there are measures to alleviate the pressure.

Focus on best practice and work with employees to understand what they want and, therefore, what’s likely to make them stay.

It’s also about relationships with the surrounding community and the schools. Involving the community and schools should be part of an ongoing employment strategy for the future.

Finally, seek support. Hoping the problem will go away is not an effective way of dealing with skills shortages. There are industry bodies more than happy to assist. Organisations such as the MISC offer a range of programs to assist mining companies. At the trainer level the Centre runs a series of quarterly network meetings. It can assist in a wide range of areas in terms of the types of implementation program that its looking at for the skills strategy. The Centre can give advice on apprenticeships and the availability of various programs. The Centre also distributes significant training funds on behalf of the State Government.

* Australian Mining will present a special feature in the March 2008 issue on attracting, training and retaining staff in the mining industry.

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