Industry leaders at a recent BDO peer group lunch believe that the mining industry is experiencing strong growth with the pipeline of work sustainable for the next few years. The Pilbara region in Western Australia is a hive of activity with a great deal of tendering, several project wins and considerable maintenance work reported.
Sector confidence is clearly high and with mining giants, BHP, Rio Tinto and FMG all constructing new mines, M&A activity within the industry is undeniably on the rise.
The key challenge right now is to find the right people. With the industry on a steady growth trajectory, enticing skilled mining and mining services professionals will become even more competitive. Combined with the requirement for suppliers to meet the standards of the major mining companies around technology and equipment, the significance of understanding the client and the employee has never been greater.
Of immediate concern is COVID-19 and how this will affect the mobility of existing staff and attracting employees from the Eastern States and overseas. The rapid spread of the virus could have a significant effect on businesses across all industries including the mining and mining services sectors, particularly around the supply chain and the movement of people.
Separate to this immediate threat, the source of concern around attracting the right talent is linked to the looming skills shortage in the industry. With growth on the horizon and a significant pipeline of projects, the workforce demand is expected to be the highest the industry has experienced since the previous construction and investment boom.
Many skilled professionals left the industry at the end of the previous mining boom and are apprehensive about returning, the cause of this hesitation is reported to be around stability within the sector and the unappealing perception of the workplace environment. This perception presents two major issues in terms of attracting experienced and qualified employees. The first is the attempt to lure back skilled professionals to senior positions within the sector, and the second is appealing to tech savvy university graduates for new technology positions as well as the more traditional mining positions.
The rise of flexible working environments and advancements in technology indicate that this time around, the terms of employment will be different, with both of these areas tipped to be a key part of the new industrial age. There continues to be a high degree of importance placed on remunerating key employees above expectations. However, it is recognised within the market, this alone is not sufficient, and equal importance should be placed on creating a healthy workplace culture. Other areas of significance for companies within the sector are, reputation within the market, an excellent brand, and being able to provide continuity of work.
An interesting suggestion at the BDO peer group discussion, was to create a centre of excellence within the Natural Resources sector in Perth, considering the level of innovative technology being produced, in particular in robotics and automation. Perth has the potential to become a world leader in technology and innovation for Natural Resources and as such, the ability to entice graduates and skilled professionals to the industry. The success of this idea is reliant upon; population growth within the state, ensuring a suitable educational pathway and shifting the current negative reputation around building a career in mining. A large, yet not unrealistic task, if the right people at the right levels of business and government are involved.
Suggested actions to implement in the short-term to attract the right people are; offering employees education, training and clear progression within the company and supporting employees by understanding their behaviours. Businesses should also invest in younger employees and spend time training and developing them, and offering flexibility without compromising on culture and operational efficiency.
The mining industry is on the move again and this time around, things will be different. The growth will be more steady and controlled with less “lifestyle” businesses and a higher calibre of organisation operating within the sector. Miners and mining services companies will need to adapt to the transforming industry and the changing employment landscape to meet the needs of the modern Australian employee, creating a supportive and flexible workplace culture, in combination with adequate remuneration, to help attract and retain skilled professionals. If we can heed the advice of industry leaders, we may just get there.
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