A sign of the times: Job ads clad major mining conference as skills shortage starts to bite
Article by Peter de Kruijff courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald.
An electronic sign trailer parked outside of Australia’s biggest mining conference promising $1000 per swing bonuses for drillers offsiders was an all too obvious reminder of the skills shortage facing parts of the industry.
The advertisement by Kalgoorlie business Terra Drilling parked next to the venue of the annual Diggers and Dealers conference is the latest in incentives being offered around the industry to attract workers.
Mining may be booming, with high commodity prices across the board buoying many companies in the sector, but state and international border closures are causing havoc for accessing shutdown crews and for supplementing the workforce pool. Drill rigs are also in demand in a red hot exploration field, adding to the ongoing skills shortage.
Some junior and middle-tier companies have been feeling the pressure of holding onto workers when the big companies are able to offer more cash.
Although the iron ore company of Australia’s richest person, Gina Rinehart, has been hiring and developing people unfamiliar with the mining industry through several job programs, it has also incentivised its existing workers to stay.
Roy Hill chief executive Gerhard Veldsman told the conference, which has attracted more than 2500 delegates, on Tuesday about how its truck drivers and process plant operators were set to receive bonuses equivalent to 50 per cent of their base salary at the Pilbara operation.
“We are really fortunate to have Mrs Rinehart as our executive chairman and from the early days on she’s actually supported the program where we share the profits that go back to … our employees,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s any other mining company that shares that amount of profit, with its employees.”
With iron ore prices going through the roof, last year the company which owns the mine, Roy Hill Holdings, recorded a 60 per cent increase in earnings to $2.2 billion.
Mr Veldsman also highlighted how a slow vaccine rollout was causing headaches for the industry as it struggled to get hold of shutdown crews who travelled from state to state and project to project.
Evolution Mining executive chairman Jake Klein, whose company is a gold-focused miner with projects across Australia and Canada, echoed the sentiment of Mr Veldsman in talking about how there had been difficulties in accessing skilled workers for short periods of time.
“We are having shutdowns and you’re needing to bring skills in from interstate, that’s proving to be more challenging now,” he said.
“If these border shuts continue I think that’s going to be an increasing challenge to get equipment and people to site with specific skills to do a specific job.
“Generally on the east coast, the pressure seems to be less than on the west coast.
“We haven’t felt the pressure yet. And I’m hopeful that that’s because the culture of the organisation the retention schemes we have in place, the performance schemes we have in place, the culture we have in the organisation are such that people want to stay.”
Mr Klein said the only way forward was to get more people vaccinated but there were problems with the rollout.
“I’m really disappointed at how we’ve gone from thinking, you know, we were leading the world in terms of managing the pandemic when there wasn’t a vaccine to now there is a vaccine and we seem to be way, way behind the rest of the world,” he said.
The gold boss was lukewarm on mandatory vaccinations on mine sites and talked about how such a measure would be guided by government policies and legal pathways.
“We’re doing everything we possibly can to encourage our workforce to get vaccinated,” Mr Klein said.
“The alternative I think is getting tested on a very frequent basis, but that’s not as good as having a fully vaccinated workforce.”
The Minerals Council of Australia met with COVID-19 Taskforce Commander Lieutenant-General John Frewen on Tuesday to outline how it could help the Federal Government with the vaccine rollout and support its workforce and communities.
The organisation said in a statement it was working with its member companies on how the vaccine could be delivered to operational mine sites and through regional hubs when sufficient supplies of vaccine are available.
“While there are significant logistical challenges ahead, the industry will play its part in a coordinated and united national effort to increase vaccination rates so mining can continue to operate while workers, families and communities are kept safe from the virus,” the statement said.
Northern Star Resources chief executive Stuart Tonkin said the industry had to be mindful of not getting into a situation where it was getting vaccines ahead of other vulnerable sectors of the community.