Skill lack to stunt growth

THE economic development of Western Australia will be curtailed over the next few years through nothing more than the lack of skilled labour.

Three years of miserable employment opportunities for engineering graduates and mining specialists have taken their toll and the number of new enrolments and graduates is steadily declining.

Australian Mining Consultants managing director Peter McCarthy said the country was facing a crisis through a lack of skilled labour.

“The shortage of experienced underground mine engineers will lead to operational delays and inefficiencies,” he said.

“Unlike previous similar crises, large numbers of qualified immigrants are not available from the UK or South Africa.”

Mr McCarthy told WA Business News that it had become very much a worldwide problem.

“On current trends, within two or three years, I can see that people will be very concerned that they will not be able to start up a mining operation,” he said.

Already, Mr McCarthy said, there was evidence that mining companies were finding it difficult to staff their sites. He said the problem was a combination of schools closing around the world including in Australia and the fact that many did not like the mining engineering lifestyle.

“Many of the mines have now become commute mines,” Mr McCarthy said. “People will work for two or three years commuting but then they get into a relationship and start getting children and they look for something else to do.”

Curtin University’s WA School of Mines director Eric Grimsey said things were very grim for mining schools around the world.

“The projections are that it will continue to decline over the next few years,” Professor Grimsey said.

“There has been a dramatic drop in mining engineering which also relates to all areas of mining.”

Professor Grimsey said the number of new enrolments peaked in 1998 and 1999 but crashed as a result of the IT boom in 2000 which drew people away from the industry.

He said while the technology boom was shortlived it had taken some time for the numbers of new enrolments to recover.

In the past year about 100 students have graduated from Australia’s three mining schools. About 30 of them came from the WASM.

The US, with 14 schools, produced 160 graduates in the past year, while Canada’s nine schools produced 180.

Professor Grimsey said it was crucial that the mining industry recognised the future threat.

The Minerals Council of Australia has been taking some initial steps through the development of programs to encourage new students to enter the mining industry.

However, Mr McCarthy said he believed the lack of engineers was not peculiar to the mining industry – there was a shortage of engineers across all fields.

It is a point that the Institute of Engineers Australia has also been pressing for the past year to government – and anyone else who cares to listen.

In March, the institute made a submission to the Federal Government over concerns it had with the current and future skills shortage.

Engineers Australia chief executive John Boshier said the Federal Government needed to support initiatives to encourage engineering skills.

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