Mining engineer shortage sees competition for skilled workers ramp-up amid pandemic | Ralph-Lauren

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As Australia’s multi-billion-dollar metal mining industry aims to capitalise on strong prices, companies have become locked in a battle to attract professionals.

Gold, copper, zinc and iron ore prices have all showed sustained increases in value since the original shock of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

But Australian university enrolments for both engineering and geology have been on the opposite trajectory and internationals were filling the void.

With borders shut, Glencore’s Queensland Metals chief operating officer Matt O’Neill said the talent pool for both graduates and experienced staff had become extremely small.

Flexible working arrangements

Glencore’s Mount Isa Mines is the biggest employer in the north-west Queensland city which has a population of more than 18,000 people and is 900 kilometres inland from Townsville.

Traditionally the workforce is based in the city and many of the engineers work Monday to Friday with an extra day off every fortnight.

But that seems to be a hard sell for Glencore with more than 200 job vacancies across the board, many of them engineers.

With other companies offering fly-in fly-out and flexible deals to engineers, Mr O’Neill said Mount Isa Mines was having to re-think the way it employed people.

A man in a pink high visibility work shirt smiles at the camera.
Matt O’Neill says other companies are offering his staff promotions.(ABC North West Queensland: Kelly Butterworth)

“We saw last year a lot of people able to do flexible working arrangements like working remotely or doing things where they’re only on site one week out of four,” he said.

Aerial view of Mount Isa mines.
Mount Isa Mines says has more than 200 job vacancies, many of them are technical roles like engineering.(ABC News: Harriet Tatham)

Industry missing internationals

The Minerals Council of Australia identified a shortage of university students studying the mining engineering degree in 2018, predicting only 50 students across will graduate next year.

General manager of safety, workforce and innovation Gavin Lind said mining companies across the country were struggling to staff their operations with the international borders shut.

“The idea of the industry having access to internationals is to bring in those specialist skills at the time when need them, it’s not a permanent fix.”

Mr Lind said the industry could operate under the current border closures in the short term and planned to comply with the government’s advice.

“There is a mechanism for exemption, particularly if you have planned maintenance or if you have unplanned shutdowns, you might need to bring someone,” he said.

Universities have made drastic changes to the degree to adapt to changing demand from the both the industry and students.

Mr Lind said the minerals council was working with a number of universities on adapting curriculums.

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