Go West

The mining boom in Western Australia continues to draw workers from across the country and from overseas. And the demand for labour is only growing.
Photo courtesy of Rio Tinto

The mining boom in Western Australia continues to draw workers from across the country and from overseas. Queensland too, is profiting from the surge in resources prices and rise of mining as a behemoth industry, yet the workers are heading to the West.

The current controversy over the 457 visa program and the Enterprise Migration Agreements shows just how controversial this subject is and the high demand for suitable labour.

The attraction

For starters, there are simply more jobs in Western Australia than in the other states operating mines. Data just released from the Australian Bureau of Statistics confirms this job boom. Out of the 69,100 new jobs created over the year ending this April, seventy per cent of these were in Western Australia.

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There are two ways to work in the mines: fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) and drive-in-drive-out (DIDO). If you’re a FIFO worker, you can live anywhere in Australia, or even neighbouring countries like Indonesia (i.e. Bali) and be flown in regularly for a work roster. DIDO workers tend to live locally near the mines.

Plus, you don’t have to be a miner to get a job in mining. Cleaners, security guards, cooks, IT professionals, engineers, metallurgists, nurses, hydrologists, health workers, mechanics, electricians and truck drivers can get a well paid job working for a mining company.

Everyone from graduates through to experienced professionals are wanted. Unskilled workers, those who have not had any formal training, are also in high demand for unskilled jobs or to undertake training programs.

Despite some talk of a slow down the majors are hiring, with Rio Tinto just launching a new recruitment drive, while BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam mining project alone is expected to require 6,000 construction workers, 4,000 ongoing mining jobs and indirean estimated 15,000 indirect support jobs.

Just how well is well paid?

According to WESTjobs, a recruitment specialist for the WA mining market, unskilled jobs earn $1,200 to $2,000 a week. In fact, the average salary in the mining industry is $90,000 a year.

Workers completing a trade are also paid well above their non-mining counterparts. Many apprentices earn up to $3,000 a week if they are working on site. As for the heavy machine operators, the money is pretty decent indeed. Once training has been completed, a haul truck driver can expect an annual salary of $90,000 to $120,000, depending on the roster and the mine site.    

We spoke to Travis Latter, CEO of iMINCO. iMINCO offers mining training courses, up and down the East Coast, including training on the impressively sized haul trucks.

He had a number of interesting observations about the opportunities that the mining boom has to offer. Firstly that there are literally thousands of jobs across the West and North that need to be filled this year, with a solid pipeline stretching into the future.

He also notes that approximately 40 per cent of trainees are female, with a surprising number of male partners becoming stay at home dads. Also age is no barrier, as employers value a clear head, and solid training when machinery worth many millions of dollars is being handled. In addition, if candidates need more experience, before venturing into the mining sector, there are many civil opportunities in the traditional construction fields.

iMINCO student dump truck haul truck

Reports from graduates indicates that over 40% are employed within three months of completing their training, which compares favourably with traditional roles.

And his advice? “ Don’t give up, it hasn’t even started”.

The downside

While the earning potential is lucrative, regardless of your job, the isolation of working on the remote mining sites is a significant factor to consider. Plus, the work is not an easy ride. The hours are long, and the work is hard.

For example, the average worker on the Gorgon gas project on Barrow Island off the mid north coast of WA, will be paid more than $150,000 a year. However, they will work a 70-hour week for 29 days straight. This is followed by a nine-day break before starting the roster cycle all over again.

For most part, locations are isolated. There is little else to do but work. And this can cause social problems. Almost all of the workers will be FIFO, so they are away from their families for a month at a time. This is why the salaries far outstrip those found in non-mining regions. The workers are rewarded for enduring these conditions.

As you would expect, these jobs have to be earned. The tough conditions, high expectations and solid competition for positions mean that employers have a lot of options and often quite specific criteria. The right attitude, a willingness to go the extra mile and sometimes a stoic determination to carry on will certainly help a candidate. It is a growing new frontier and it needs a sprit to match.

If you think a jobs just due, leave that attitude at the border, it won’t go far otherwise.

Will it last

According to statistics from the Western Australian government, an additional 500,000 skilled jobs will need to be filled in the next ten years to support the mining industry.   

The Gorgon gas project is one of the largest natural gas projects in the world. It is expected to be a major contributor to the economic wealth of Australia for the next 40 years. Yes, 40 years.

So, if all things go to plan, the mining boom and the jobs that go with it are going remain a significant part of the Australian, and especially the Western Australian, economy for many years to come.

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