Article:

How our natural resources sector is ‘glowing up’

07 June 2022

Sharee Bartlett, Partner, Risk Advisory |

As recruitment pressures grow, now is the right time to dispel the myths and misconceptions that are turning young people away from a career in the mining and oil and gas sectors. We recently hosted an industry forum at BDO in Brisbane, led by Sharee Bartlett and Joe Occhino, to discuss the report findings of the BDO Natural Resources Future Workforce Survey, and the local issues in Queensland. We’ve provided detail on the key insights to emerge from the report and forum discussion below.

Strategies to connect with future generations

Increased connections with schools and communities is needed to address the narrative of the mining sector, and to future proof the industry talent pool. More mining organisations are coordinating their own initiatives with schools and universities, such as sponsoring field trips to their sites. This is helping open up engagement levels and conversations with future talent - allowing the organisation to profile their brand and purpose to younger generations. These initiatives are a longer-term approach, designed to inspire, educate and shift perceptions of the industry, building understanding of the importance of the Natural Resources sector in our journey to a more sustainable world. For example, one of Australia’s largest mining corporations is engaging with schools in Western Australia and Brisbane. Another Queensland based organisation conducts regular ‘drive–in, drive-outs’ of communities to maintain their engagement and footprint with the region.

Graduate programs are now focusing on emerging areas such as renewables and sustainability, to meet the expectations and sentiments of the emerging generation of employees. A sense of purpose and the opportunity to be ‘change makers’ impacts their choice of who they work for and what retains them in their role. Social media is particularly important in driving engagement with this generation, which many organisations are recognising – becoming active in ways and on channels they never have before.

The Mining Council of Australia has asked the Federal Government to continue addressing structural weaknesses across the post-secondary education and training landscape to ensure that Australians have access to meaningful education opportunities to participate in the future minerals workforce.

Programs to bring women into the industry are seen as not only a way to innovate the talent pool, but also support the professional development of young females early in their career. Graduate numbers in sector-relevant courses are decreasing, so initiatives to attract a diverse workforce, including increased engagement much earlier in the education journey, is front of mind.

Other industry initiatives to address workforce recruitment and retention include:

  • Investment in training and skills development: This is crucial to keeping all generations of the workforce engaged and upskilled in areas which are not only relevant to their current role
  • Executive coaching and reverse mentoring programs: These are being designed to connect the industry workforce across all generations and to maintain touchpoints with employees
  • Secondments to other organisations or leave of absences: These options offer flexibility, and help retain talent within the organisation over the long term.

Natural Resources companies should demonstrate these opportunities to current and potential employees, clearly communicating the available career pathways and options to pivot in their careers. The trend of employees ‘moving out to move up’ provides an opportunity for businesses to enable growth from within by showcasing these options and providing examples, with a particular emphasis on the diverse range of careers and disciplines available. Younger generations will change careers several times over their working life, but don’t need to leave the industry in order to do so.

Workforce modifications and transparency are now required

Workforce considerations and impacts of the current market are top of mind for the industry. One talent acquisition team recruited 500 new employees last year, but lost 600. This highlights the importance of focusing on employee on-boarding, workforce planning, employee engagement and retention strategies, and an organisation’s employee value proposition. In the past, more experienced and longstanding employees have helped train staff on the job, but with a widespread movement of roles this can now be more challenging.

The development of frameworks around roles, levels and work patterns ensure clarity and help prevent staff burnout, setting clear boundaries and expectations for both employers and employees. New workforce models, technology solutions and joint ventures to address talent pool issues are expected to emerge in the next couple of years.   

Many sector organisations have more recently adopted a ‘work from anywhere’ approach, which is particularly appealing to digital nomads who have not had experience with an in-office or traditional workplace environment. A potential downside to this is the lack of experience that comes with understanding the grassroots or coal-face of a mining operation. Onsite or FIFO work arrangements have lost some of their appeal due to increased wages and roles on offer closer to the city. Communities at mine sites are not usually built with younger generations in mind, meaning there is little to keep them happy and engaged when working in areas which are often remote. Some suggestions include modern, well-equipped gyms and tourist style entertainment venues.

With the level of pay and number of offers available in the current market, employees are being lured to move organisations and roles. There is a need to embed and continually communicate the organisation’s value proposition to employees – directly acknowledging and addressing other factors that may cause an employee to leave, such as purpose, variety, leave entitlements and career pathways.

Some in the industry reported a perception gap among potential employees, whereby roles with a renewables based organisation are viewed more favourably than those with an extractive industry organisation. This reflects two key themes from the report:

  • The desire for job security versus the industry’s cyclical nature
  • The understanding that mining is key to the energy transition.

Industry has an opportunity to educate current and future generations that they don’t have to work in a renewables company in order to have a positive impact - they could opt to work in nickel, copper or lithium, minerals which are key to enabling the energy transition.

For some organisations, accessibility to CEO and leadership has been cited as a leaver to link all levels of staff to the organisation’s purpose while also driving an inclusive culture, innovation from within and increased collaboration.

Most organisations understand that Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) positioning and related aspirational targets are important to communicate and report transparently. However, the narrative in the market is often misinformed or industry inaccurate, due to worldwide publicity on these matters. Regardless, industry must understand their current and likely future obligations in this area, and their importance to various stakeholders, including potential employees.

Future-proof your employee value proposition

The Natural Resources sector has already made great inroads to address perceptions, issues and opportunities for improvement head on. It is imperative the industry continue to update or establish a unique value proposition that is clear, transparent and meaningful to resonate with current and future talent. As global events and generational changes continue, a dedicated approach to keeping on top of generational and workforce developments will be required - a true case of actions speaking louder than words.

Read more of the suggested practical changes from the global landscape and other ideas in our future workforce survey report. To discuss any of these issues further, please contact your local adviser.