21/09/2004 - 22:00

Skills dearth bites miners

21/09/2004 - 22:00

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The shortage of skilled labour has become one of the biggest problems facing the mining industry, participants in WA Business News’ boardroom lunch have confirmed.

“There is an absolutely huge skills shortage and its not confined to just one level of employee,” AngloGold Ashanti Australia managing director Peter Rowe said.

“It’s the senior mining engineers out of university for five years, it’s the tradespeople, it’s particularly in the skilled mining operators, such as drilling jumbo operators and truck drivers.”

Wallis Drilling’s Graham Wallis said the shortage of skilled labour extended to the drilling contractors.

“There is no doubt about that. It is holding us back,” Mr Wallis said.

Industry participants acknowledged that wide cyclical swings in the mining industry made it difficult to match the supply and demand for labour.

Sally Malay Mining managing director Peter Harold said: “It’s definitely a problem for us in the Kimberley”.

The industry is looking further afield for staff. 

“We are flying people in from Darwin, from Broome, from Perth,” Mr Harold said.

“Our process manager comes from the Atherton Tableland [in Queensland]. The on-site construction manager is from Shepparton, in Victoria.

“This is where these guys are coming from because you can’t get good people.”

He said smaller firms found it difficult to attract graduates.

“You’ve got people like BHP that take the entire university output of 20 for the year, so they’re gone,” Mr Harold said.

He was also concerned about the impact on labour costs.

“What’s staggering me is the increase in the salaries of these people. You could see a 50 per cent increase over the next 18 months, that’s what worries me.”

Midwest Corporation CEO Stephen de Belle said the age profile of people in the industry added to his concern.

“The average age of mining engineers is over 55. In other words, in five years time it will be a catastrophe,” Mr de Belle said.

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