Media wakes up to mining's labour shortage. What now?

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The mainstream media is finally reporting the mining industry's growing labour shortage. So, what happens next?

It has taken awhile but the media is finally picking up on the mining industry’s tightening labour market. Last week The Australian reported (subscription only) that the recent lift in commodity prices and the exodus of workers from the industry following the end of the last mining boom were “coming to spark the first signs of competition for staff in years”.

The news will come as no surprise to regular readers of the MPi Newsroom. We’ve been warning about the change in the labour supply and demand equation for months.

The Australian’s report quotes South32 chief executive Graham Kerr, who said it was clear labour and contractor costs were starting to change direction after years of consistent deflation.

“Without a doubt, in the last six months we’ve seen some of the pricing stabilise around labour,” Mr Kerr told the paper. “The market now is certainly getting busier, so when you start talking to contractors, consultants, and potential employees, they’ve got more work to choose from than they had six or 12 months ago.”

Shortage of skilled labour across mining disciplines

In April MPi Newsroom reported the candidate market had tightened. Even then mining industry employers were looking for three times as many Mining Engineers as they were at the same time the previous year. And it’s not just Mining Engineers who were becoming hard to find — the trend was being replicated across many professional technical disciplines.

Our forecast was then as it is now: we only see the demand for skilled candidates increasing during this year and next, with new projects moving from construction this year into operation in 2018.

The increased demand is seeing many mining companies offering permanent positions rather than contract roles. The industry is also starting to see candidates with a couple of job offers in progress at any one time. So the power balance in the supply and demand equation really is changing in the employee or mining job candidate’s favour.

As the Australian’s report suggests, the mining industry recovery doesn’t mean the demand is anywhere near where it was during the boom years, but there is also a much smaller pool of labour to draw from, as many skilled workers left the industry and moved away from mining states.

The best skills shortage advice for mining companies

Given the nature of the industry at the moment, MPi’s advice to mining industry recruiters is to ensure they are attractive to jobseekers in a candidate-tight environment. Make sure your advertising is targeted and appealing, your processes are streamlined, and you keep people moving through your process. Don’t let your candidates wait weeks for feedback, either.

Now that the mainstream media has cottoned on to this story, we could well see it have an effect on the kinds of candidates looking for mining jobs. Perhaps some of those skilled workers who left the industry after the boom might start looking for mining work again. Don’t miss out on the good ones by having inefficient or unappealing recruitment processes.

Need help recruiting the best possible employees for your mining company? Get in touch with Mining People International’s team of specialist recruiters.

Dan Hatch
Mining People International