Flow-through yet to make a mark in mining employment

THE spate of new exploration mining companies coming on stream since the beginning of the year has yet to flow through into the job market. But, as the sector turns the corner, it may lead to a shortage of skilled labour, according to industry participants.

Exploration has been on the slide since 1997, putting an estimated 2,000 geologists out of work or into different occupations. Beilby general manager Rick Dunn said that, in the past, it was not uncommon to see 20 geologist’s positions available in the newspaper at any one time. Today, he said, two advertised positions was the norm.

Executive recruitment specialist Pennock Management Consultants director Rowley Pennock said he was beginning to see a turnaround in business as the rise in the gold price brought more optimism to the sector.

“This year is looking better but it’s too early to say if it’s a mining boom,” Mr Pennock said.

Coming off a successful float last month, Jackson Gold managing director Andrew Viner said exploration had been decimated in 1997 when the “tap was turned off for exploration and a lot of geologists became out of work”.

“I think there is going to be a shortage of skills by the second half of this year because a lot have left the industry,” he said.

Mr Pennock said that, if the spending in the sector was sustained, there might be a shortage of skilled operators. He said there already was a lack of good mining engineers available.

“I have several hundreds of geologists on my books, but a lot of them are getting absorbed. The pool of people available is getting smaller,” he said.

“Less are coming out of university, many have retired, while others are transferring their skills to other areas such as teaching or stockbroking.”

But the industry has an uphill battle to return to the 1997 peak in exploration work.

Mineral exploration figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last week indicate that WA had the largest decrease of any State, falling in the March quarter by an unadjusted $26 million. Petroleum exploration also dropped-off sharply – by $22 million or 16 per cent – to $120 million in WA during the first quarter of this year.

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