An additional 8,000 skilled workers will be needed in Western Australia’s resources sector over the next 12 to 18 months to meet peak economic recovery demand, according to workforce modelling by The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA (CME).
The preliminary forecast modelling assumes the continuation of COVID-related restrictions, including interstate travel, will remain in place through to the end of 2020 and foreshadows a considerable increase in competition for key skills, such as traditional trades and experienced technicians, front line supervisors and maintainers, and safety and medical support services.
CME Chief Executive Paul Everingham said the WA resources sector has reaffirmed its commitment to employing locally, where possible, as it looks ahead to these identified additional skilling needs to underpin the post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
“In response to COVID-19, companies moved early and decisively to relocate thousands of their employees and contractors in critical roles to WA, with companies offering incentive packages to make the move permanent,” he said.
“The skills migration to the West brought on by COVID-19 has been nothing short of phenomenal. The vast majority of WA’s interstate FIFO workforce of around 5,000 have made the move west, some individually, others with their families at very short notice prior to the state border closure in April.
“Many of our members have also been recruiting for hundreds of skilled roles from within Western Australia over the past few months. These roles are a mixture of regional and Perth based, including both residential and fly-in fly-out.
“We’re already seeing high demand in traditional trades and experienced technicians, front line supervisors and maintainers such as heavy diesel fitters, and professional engineers, geologists metallurgists and technology specialists. There is also increased demand for safety, emergency and medical support services in the content of the ongoing COVID-19 response – safety rightly remains our first priority.
“At a difficult time of high unemployment, the sector recognises the need to employ locally where it is practical to do so. It will be a balance of employing local, enticing skilled workers keen to relocate to WA and ensuring the training system can respond to meet these high demand CME has collaborated with industry experts to examine the sector’s skilled workforce needs going forward.”
The WA resources sector is among the state’s major employers, with a workforce of approximately 120,000 across Western Australia. Many thousands of additional workers rely indirectly on the sector for employment, across the more than 14,000 WA businesses that the sector engages annually.
CME’s forecast workforce modelling shows an additional 8,049 workers will be required in WA to meet peak recovery demand through to the end of 2020 and into 2021, assuming current COVID-related restrictions remain in place until the end of 2020.
“Our preliminary forecast modelling highlights the potential for more than 8,000 new job opportunities across the resources sector. It also foreshadows a considerable hotting up of competition for key skills in a safe and productive way,” Mr Everingham said.
Mr Everingham highlighted a number of examples where mining and resources companies were responding through a commitment to hire locally.
“Rio Tinto’s iron ore business in Western Australia has hired more than 500 employees and contractors locally including experienced operational and maintenance roles, new apprentices, graduates and Aboriginal trainees. The company has also hired more than 100 nurses to staff its rapid screening facilities at Perth Airport.
“In addition to recruiting local Western Australian people, Rio Tinto continues to invest in developing critical skills including Australia’s first nationally-recognised qualifications in automation.
“BHP has filled hundreds of new positions locally for the extra roles it advertised for across its operations in response to the COVID-19 crisis in roles such as machinery and production operators, truck and ancillary equipment drivers, excavator operators, boilermakers, electricians, trades assistants, cleaners and warehousing.
“In addition, BHP also hired 35 laid-off Qantas and Virgin WA staff to help with social distancing protocols and health screening at airports.
“Fortescue Metals Group (Fortescue) continued to recruit through the COVID-19 crisis for new team members to support the Company’s operational needs, filling hundreds of positions locally in a range of roles including engineers, geologists, automotive mechanics, electricians and mining and process operators.”
Mr Everingham said incentive packages offered by companies to attract their interstate employees to move permanently to WA had included relocation and housing assistance, which compliments the WA Government’s housing construction incentive.
“We also acknowledge that making the decision to relocate across the Nullarbor is a major life-changing decision, and in many instances workers haven’t been able to get home yet to sit around their kitchen table with their family and friends to make such a life-changing decision.”
Mr Everingham estimates that only about 1 to 2 per cent of the workforce still need to be sourced from outside of WA under the current COVID-19 operating environment.
“Exceptional reasons still exist for sourcing skills outside of WA, which cannot be simply substituted locally. These roles are often safety-critical and highly technical, and require unique skills or years of experience, often with a particular type of machinery. The risks associated with this type of work require extensive on the job experience to assure the highest standards of safety, including in major hazard scenarios.”
Mr Everingham said the WA resources sector remained committed to skills development for current and future workers in the industry.
“For example, Rio Tinto has committed funding toward the upskilling of out of work apprentices across various industries by covering their fees for a course in automation. This will allow for the enrolment of up to 200 apprentices who have had their apprenticeships suspended or cancelled due to COVID-19, he said.
“BHP recently welcomed 125 WA apprentices and trainees into its ranks as part of a new national training program that will help to bolster Australia’s skills base and create new career pathways into the mining sector.
“In line with its commitment to providing training and employment opportunities for Aboriginal people, Fortescue has continued to run its Vocational Training and Employment Centre program through the COVID-19 period resulting in 21 Aboriginal trainees securing full-time employment, joining 900 former graduates.”