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WA mining and resources sector could need another 40,000 workers over the next two years

WA’s mining and resources sector could need as many as 40,000 additional workers by mid-2023, according to new modelling exploring a deepening skills shortage that has now extended Australia-wide. 

The research, commissioned by the Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA (CME) and undertaken by independent labour market specialists Pit Crew Consulting, looks at the sector’s workforce requirements in the near term and also out to 2025. 

Key insights of the report confirm there is a significant shortage of workers now, with the potential for there to be a peak shortage of 33,000 workers. 

CME Chief Executive Paul Everingham said the report made for telling reading. 

“When we last released workforce modelling in August 2020, our sector had a positive outlook coming out of the worst of COVID-19 restrictions and we predicted then a need for an extra 8000 operational workers in the following 18 months – but this new research shows the situation is far more challenging than that,” Mr Everingham said. 

“There are many factors contributing to this worsening skills shortage, which collectively equate to a perfect storm.  

“From a WA mining and resources sector perspective, we have an unusual situation where shutdown work will remain unseasonably high in the short term to make up for lost time, and in parallel, operational and construction work is projected to grow strongly over the next two years on the back of strong commodity prices. 

“Meanwhile, there is hot competition for skilled and experienced workers across Australia from a variety of industries, which includes significant government-backed infrastructure and construction projects under way around the country. 

“Unlike previous construction-led growth periods for our sector, where up to 1000 people a week were moving to WA for work, there are now strong employment prospects in the Eastern States for people if they choose to stay at home.  

“And, of course, international skilled migration has all but halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there has been a very clear indication from government that Australia’s border won’t open up for at least another year.” 

The report highlights a variety of mining and resources sector roles that will experience acute shortages over the next three years, including: 

  • Mining Engineers 
  • Metallurgists 
  • Underground surveyors 
  • Civil, electrical and mechanical engineers 
  • Geologists 
  • Geophysicists 
  • Auto electricians 
  • Diesel fitters 
  • Mechanical fitters 
  • Boiler makers 
  • Welders 
  • Drillers 

Mr Everingham said the magnitude of the potential skills shortage underscored the need for industry and government to work together to ensure the continued strong recovery of both the WA and Australian economies from the impacts of COVID-19. 

“Our sector is one of a number of industries that is facing these shortages and I know governments at all levels have a strong appetite to tackle this challenge as well,” Mr Everingham said. 

“Collaborative efforts between industry and government, including the upcoming WA Skills Summit, are going to be crucial to finding targeted and innovative ways to combat the shortages across many industries.  My sense is we will have to be prepared to pull all available levers to avoid the worst of the predicted shortages. 

“In our sector alone, there are $140 billion of projects currently in the pipeline – opportunities that won’t be fully realised unless we can gain access to the right people with the right skills at the right time. 

“As this report makes clear, we simply aren’t going to be able to address our workforce needs within the talent pool that is currently available in WA or, indeed, the country.  Therefore it is essential government ‘leans in’ with a forward-looking plan on skills migration where it is in the national interest, and obviously is safe to do so. 

“The flow-on effects of projects going undeveloped would be significant. Last year, royalties from the mining and resources sector amounted to $9.2 billion or nearly 29 per cent of all WA Government revenue, and company tax paid on operations in WA contributed strongly to Federal COVID-19 support mechanisms like JobKeeper and JobSeeker.” 

Mr Everingham said the mining and resources sector remained committed to providing employment and training opportunities for West Australians. 

But the timelines of the sector’s workforce demand meant skilled and experienced workers were needed far sooner than they could be developed “from scratch.” 

“CME member companies have prioritised training and employment opportunities for West Australians and nothing will change there.  The resources industry has also shown its commitment to increase apprenticeships and traineeships over the last five years, which has proved a prescient investment given current circumstances,” he said. 

“When COVID-19 hit, CME and its member companies stepped up their efforts to move interstate FIFO workers west, joining the State Government to promote the opportunities on offer to those willing to make the move and offering a range of company incentives to individual workers looking to make WA home. The potential for further incentives to stimulate mobility is well worth exploring alongside government. 

“We also work closely with WA education providers to ensure their graduates have the skills, technical and safety competencies required by our sector.  It’s also fundamental that entry pathways for young and mature recruits are as efficient and inclusive as possible. 

“However, the reality is that many of the roles needed right now and in the near future are highly skilled and require years of experience to be performed safely and effectively.  

“We can’t prepare new entrants to fill all in-demand roles overnight and given the competing demand around Australia, we can’t rely on them coming from interstate either. 

“It’s a complex situation given COVID-19 and the incredible economic rebound in WA and around most parts of the country.  But there is a clear need to explore ways we can access international markets to bring in workers with targeted and vital skills, while continuing to ensure the health and safety of the community. ”