Struggle to manage Gen Y’s demands
Young workers in today's mining services and resources industry are indolent and arrogant, according to some participants at the WA Business News mining services forum.
The general managers, chief executives, managing directors and chairmen of leading Perth mining services and mining software companies recently described a Generation Y workforce (born between 1977 and 1995) as an anomaly: ambitious, but lazy.
They said many university graduates wanted to climb the corporate ladder, but weren't prepared to do the hard yards and work their way through the ranks to achieve it.
General manager of mining and resources software provider ISS Group, Frank Zenke, warned that the industry was moving into a culture where young, inexperienced university graduates were getting paid more than their inherent worth.
"People are not even finished university and they're getting offered high-paying jobs," Mr Zenke said.
"They come in and say to someone who's been doing a job all their life, 'well what are you going to teach me?'."
Western Australians working for large organisations received the highest pay rises in the country in 2007, according to Australian Institute of Management research.
The salaries of the state's workers increased 6.4 per cent, above the national average of 4.7 per cent.
The institute predicts a similar trend next year, which it says is a result of the resources boom.
ADG Global Supply chief executive Andy Greathead said while salaries for inexperienced workers were skyrocketing, finding quality young workers in Western Australia was an onerous task.
"How do we get the kids of today working? I haven't figured that out yet," he said.
"How do we get them to understand the roles they have to play?
"We're doing all the sexy stuff, empowering and all the non-traditional stuff, but if anybody's got the recipe on how to get someone who's 28 working effectively on their own, send it to me I'll buy it from you.
"It's our fault though. We've caused these kids to be this way; as a generation we've caused it, but how do we fix it?"
Immersive Technologies chief executive Peter Salfinger believes the answer to recruiting and retaining quality staff rests in employee satisfaction.
"We make sure that when they work with us their skills are matched with that particular facet of software development," Mr Salfinger said.
Modern Industries managing director Andrew White says young workers become restless too quickly, something he has witnessed with Modern's construction and engineering workers.
"They come in and say, 'oh that hasn't worked I'm not GM [general manager] in two weeks, I'll go somewhere else'," Mr White told the forum. "That's their attitude, they're in or they're out."
Gemcom Australia, the largest division of Gemcom Software International, which has a global reach delivering mining productivity solutions in more than 90 countries, employs hundreds of staff.
Gemcom Australia managing director Nic Pollock said the company recognised that the challenge for WA's mining and resources sector was to understand the mindset of young workers.
He said 457 visas, which allow employers to sponsor overseas workers to work in Australia on a temporary basis, was an important initiative in light of a shortage of skilled labour.
However, Mr Pollock said it was important for employers to invest time in understanding how younger generations thought.
"The reality is we're not going to change the attitudes of young workers," he said. "The challenge for us is to try and understand these people. How do we work with them? How do we get inside their heads?
"What we [Gemcom] trade off in an employment point of view is flexibility...and while 457 visas are good, there's a lot of pain in getting the skills of those people up to speed.
"So instead of changing these young workers, we've got to understand how they think."
Mr White said irrespective of the perceived attitudes of WA's young workforce, Australia had to refrain from using 457 visas as a solution to the skills shortage.
"The cost issues with 457 visa labour almost equalises itself in terms of the costs associated with accommodation, and I have seen quite a bit of sheet metal activity recently done by 457 workers and it was appalling," he said.
"The skill we're bringing in is not up to speed. I reckon we can create more problems than we can maybe solve."
Australian Mine Services is a significant player in Australia's mining equipment maintenance and design industry, employing more than 100 staff.
The company's managing director, Ian Massara, told the forum the traditional Australian work ethic had dissolved, further exacerbating WA's skills shortage.
"I think that work ethic's been lost, that's all gone; the young blokes don't want to work anymore, it's too easy for them," Mr Massara said.
"They haven't known anything else because we've given them everything. Engineers come out [of university] and they want to be the general manager within a fortnight, but they've got no hands-on experience.
"So you've got to tell these guys to do their time and pay their dues.
"Don't put apprentices on straight away. If you want to be a tradesman with us you have to do your time out on the floor as a trade's assistant first.
"We tell them, you've got to be a trade's assistant first and then you'll go to the mine site for 12 months, and then I'll shorten your term up. Some people disagree with me, but we haven't lost one apprentice."
Mr Massara said the quality of work coming out of Australia, particularly from engineers, had been sliding since the 1960s and 1970s.
"They were smarter engineers back then and they're still smarter than what we've got today, because they had to go out and work problems out," he said.
"If you give [young workers] a desk and a computer they don't know what's going on.
"That's their mentality; they reckon they can do it by keying things into a computer and so forth. It doesn't work. They have to be on the floor.
"And as soon as you get good blokes here too there's a knock at the door [from another company], here's another $100,000 and they're out."