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Mining companies need to prepare for skills shortages

South Australia has seen mining job ads plummet in the last two years, and needs to ensure there is not another skills shortage in the next market upswing, a workforce specialist has warned.

Addressing the Paydirt 2015 Resources and Energy conference in Adelaide yesterday, Resources and Engineering Skills Alliance (RESA) CEO Phil de Courcey said that despite the industry downturn it was important for South Australia to retain and drive skills capability to drive productivity.

“Monthly mining job ads have collapsed from a peak of 361 in April 2013 to just 61 last month,” he said.

“We are in a three point environment of plunging commodity prices, particularly for iron ore and oil, stalling investment in new projects and companies seeking greater efficiencies by adjusting working conditions and workforce numbers to decrease costs.”

De Courcey said that staff poaching strategies meant companies used higher salaries and conditions to bring people in from other mining organisations, which led to price disparity with wages in other industries, further price escalation, leading to a loss of competitiveness and productivity in the mining sector.

“We have moved from high level exploration and development, to a stage of just being able to keep projects going and ensuring we have the people that can deliver,” he said.

“Not surprisingly, SA’s mining workforce has eased from 15,000 to about 12,000 now – begging the question whether this slide is now permanent.

“Forecasts suggest there will be some upturn within the next five years – so the State’s employers need to be better prepared to have access to the right skills.

“We want to avoid a repeat of the recent wages escalation issues and dump the poach and pay option.”

De Courcey told the conference that the South Australian mining industry had to be mindful that with the biggest baby boomer population in the country, many would be ready to leave the workforce by the next market upswing.

He said the state ought to prepare itself by better utilising women in the workforce, and by creating additional pipelines of skillsets such as taking on apprentices and graduates to better respond to the prospect of skills shortages.

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