Australia’s mining workforce want list

Umar Ali 14 January 2020 (Last Updated January 13th, 2020 12:23)

The Australian Resources and Energy Group has published a report predicting that the sector will need 21,000 new workers by 2024, putting pressure on new and approved mining projects to deliver long-term jobs. We profile the jobs highest on the mining industry’s want list.

Australia’s mining workforce want list
The open pit Argyle diamond mine is located near Kununurra, Australia. Credit: Tom Backus.

Mining plant operators

The Australian Resources and Energy Group (AMMA) predicts that of the 20,767 employees needed in Australia’s mining sector by 2024, mining plant operators will see the most demand, with a total of 8,660 operators required across the country’s 57 total projects.

Western Australia (WA) accounts for more than 50% of this demand, with AMMA expecting that 4,464 mining plant operators will be needed in the region.

WA contains eight of Australia’s nine new lithium mining projects, which has ensured the country remains one of the world’s largest producers of this critical mineral.

With demand for this metal increasing with the development of electric vehicles, these mining operators will be an important part of Australia’s future energy mix as well as the country’s presence in global energy markets.

In the report, AMMA CEO Steve Knott said: “There is no escaping that the mining industry, a significant driver of national wealth and prosperity, can be highly cyclical. While the industry has always been a key pillar of the Australian economy, the period of 2005-2012 saw unprecedented levels of project and workforce growth.

“The number of direct employees in Australia’s mining industry jumped from 113,000 to 274,000 – a 162% increase in seven years. On average, the workforce demand grew by one-fifth every 12 months.

“Australia’s mining industry is facing new workforce demand at levels not seen since the previous investment and construction ‘boom’. Securing the pipeline of skills to support mining project growth is a significant challenge that must be met head-on, collaboratively, by industry and government.”

Engineers and geologists

Engineers, technicians, geologists and related roles are the second-largest group of jobs in AMMA’s report, with a total of 4,180 across Australia.

Of the “white collar” jobs in AMMA’s report engineers, technicians and geologists will require the most growth across Australia, with WA once again leading in demand with 2,138 required jobs.

AMMA’s modelling shows that iron ore will account for 29% of Australia’s new operational workforce demand, with coal at a close second with 24%. Three coal projects in Queensland- Alpha Coal, China First and Kevin’s Corner– could be among the largest coal mines in the world, which AMMA predicts could see the state’s direct mining workforce exceed 80,000 for the first time.

Gold and copper also remain important parts of Australia’s mining sector, accounting for 17% of new operational workforce demand and 16 of Australia’s 57 new projects (ten for gold and six for copper).

With such significant growth in mining infrastructure and demand for these minerals, engineers and geologists will be essential in refining current exploration and production technologies, and opening up previously inaccessible parts of Australia for exploration efforts.

Supervisors and management

Supervisors, management, administration and other white collar roles account for 4,110 of Australia’s 20,767 required mining jobs

These management roles will play an important part in maintaining Australia’s growing mining sector, with significant management structures needed to accommodate the growth predicted by AMMA.

The addition of 20,767 employees to Australia’s mining sector, reaching a total workforce of 260,767, would be the highest point of direct mining industry employment in Australia since the investment and construction boom’s peak of 274,000 employees in 2012.

In the report, Knott said: “Employers, peak industry bodies and state and federal governments are united in our desire to be well prepared for the workforce demands of this next phase of industry growth.

“We must learn our lessons from the past and be better at industry workforce planning, nurturing the skills pipeline, facilitating inter-sector labour mobility, and avoiding projects cannibalising each other for critical trades and semi-skilled roles.”

Electrical and maintenance roles

Trades such as electrical, mechanical and maintenance roles account for 970 of the 20,767 jobs AMMA predicts Australia’s mining sector will need for 2024, the smallest demographic represented in the report.

While these roles require the smallest amount of new jobs according to AMMA’s report, electrical and mechanical roles will still be an essential part of Australia’s mining sector, particularly in conjunction with global efforts to reduce emissions.

Technological developments in the mining sector will also require a significant investment in electrical and maintenance roles, particularly with many companies making shifts to digitalised infrastructure.

These technological advancements include upgrades to existing systems such as the SBAS satellite positioning technology or new developments such as autonomous drilling systems and mining robots, which advisory organisation BDO Australia predicts could replace 50% of miners worldwide by 2020 and reduce workplace accidents by 75%.

While AMMA’s predictions for growth in electric, mechanical and maintenance roles are smaller than the other parts of the mining sector, mining companies and governments alike would benefit from investing in these roles as Australia’s mining infrastructure continues to expand, to increase efficiency and reduce costs across the country.