Despite a small amount of improvement in their employment prospects, geoscientists are continuing to struggle against the sustained downturn in the exploration industry.
At the end of September 2014 the unemployment rate was 13.5 per cent, down from 15.4 per cent in June.
An improvement in the unemployment rate was observed in every state except Queensland, where unemployment increased by almost six percent.
However, underemployment is up from 15 to 15.4 per cent, continuing the trend ongoing since late 2013.
The latest Australian Geoscientist Employment Survey, conducted by the Australian Institute of Geoscientists (AIG), had an excellent response rate with 954 respondents (approximately 1 in 8 geoscientists in Australia).
The Institute has warned that only governments can take the action needed to break the current investment and job growth “bottleneck” as a result of over-regulation and low commodity prices for Australia’s mineral resources and exploration sector.
The underemployment rate in the latest survey amongst self-employed geoscientists was 15.4%, a slight increase over the rate of 15.0% recorded in June 2014 and continuing a trend evident since the end of 2013.
AIG president Wayne Spilsbury said geoscientists in Australia continued to experience difficulty in obtaining and sustaining employment in the third quarter of 2014.
“In contrast to the sharp increase in employment following the global economic downturn in 2009, any recovery in employment within the geoscience profession has been much slower this time,” he said.
A question introduced in June to assess the degree of underemployment being experienced by self-employed consultants and contractors brought in results showing that 41 per cent of those responding who identified as underemployed had achieved less than one tenth of their desired workload.
In September that figure improved to 30 per cent.
In June 16 per cent had achieved between one tenth and one quarter of their desired work, but in September the response shifted to 20 per cent.
“If we reclassify self-employed geoscientists achieving less than ten percent of their desired workload as essentially unemployed, the unemployment rate increases from 13.5 per cent to 18 per cent – almost one in five professional geoscientists,” Spilsbury said.
Three quarters of unemployed and underemployed geoscientists were not confident of returning to full time employment in their chosen field within 12 months, and one in 12 were seeking long-term employment outside the profession.
“The latest survey shows the first signs for almost a year of a possible improvement in selective employment opportunities,” Spilsbury said.
“As the proportion of geoscientists working in mineral exploration and mining reflects the health of Australia’s exploration and mining industries, and a barometer for the overall outlook for resources, I hope that we are seeing, in this survey, the beginning of an upturn – but it is too early and too gradual to be confident that this is the case.
“The slow recovery from the downturn in 2012 and 2013 is something that we have not seen previously since AIG’s survey series commenced in 2009.
“We remain however, in an environment where Australian-listed junior exploration and mining companies are critically undercapitalised and finding it difficult to attract new investment – the fundamental driver of geoscientist employment rates.
“The Federal Government’s promised Exploration Development Incentive is yet to be introduced and State Governments have yet to act to reduce compliance requirements that are choking a range of industries, all at a time when commodity prices are depressed, creating a less than ideal investment climate.”
Investment in new projects is at the lowest level seen in ten years, with only three projects worth $597 million moving to the committed phase in the six months to October 2014.
In the same period eight projects worth $22.2 billion failed to achieve commitment.
Exploration has suffered a significant hit this year, with investment decreasing by 12 per cent of the total spend of $6.9 billion in 2013-14.