Unemployment among Australia’s professional mining workforce has surged over the past year and is now three times the national jobless average, a new report shows.
A report from the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy surveyed 2,266 people and found 16.2 per cent of Australia’s mining professionals are now out of work.
That figure is up from 12.2 per cent last year and 1.7 per cent in 2012.
Those classified as professionals include engineers, geologists, geotechnicians and environmental scientists.
The institute’s CEO Michael Catchpole said iron ore had been hit the hardest, driven by tumbling commodity prices and a natural reduction in jobs as projects move from construction to production.
“Almost 25 per cent of iron ore professionals are unemployed,” he said.
“I don’t think any of the companies were anticipating the downturn we’ve seen, certainly in commodity prices.
“And while we move from that investment to production phase there certainly wasn’t an anticipation in such a steep increase in unemployment across the professions.” Industry body says employment rates in WA are up
However, WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy spokesman Emmanuel Hondros said ABS data showed an increase in employment in the sector.
“To the August quarter it’s up from 94,300 to 105,200 people in WA,” he said.
Mr Hondros agreed there had been some variability in the employment market as a result of volatile commodity prices, but said that was a constant factor in the industry.
“When you’re dealing with commodities and volatile commodity prices that’s to be expected,” he said.
“Companies have had to focus on costs and employment is part of that.
“But the resources sector – as we enter an operations phase – will continue to be an important source of employment in WA and we’d expect that to grow over the longer term.”
Mr Hondros said as the industry in WA transitioned from construction to operation, he expected new roles to emerge over time.
“As the industry continues to automate we will see sustainable roles in the professions,” he said.
“Those in higher tech roles – and those in the trades – that will become the hall-mark of the sector.”
Population growth slowing
The most recent estimates on Australia’s population growth show a slowing across all states, with WA demonstrating one of the steepest.
Chief economist Alan Langford said the slowing in WA’s population growth was not surprising due to the downturn in commodity prices.
“They (commodity prices) had pushed population growth up to very high levels in 2012 and now the unwinding of that is showing the population growth is slowing markedly,” he said.
Growth in WA’s total population peaked at 3.7 per cent in late 2012 but has now slowed to 1.4 per cent.
Victoria has overtaken WA as the fastest growing state; a title WA has held since it overtook Queensland in late 2006.
Mr Langford said less population growth in the state could limit the extent to which the unemployment rate is rising, although he said it is still rising.
“There’re a couple of fairly significant resource projects under construction at the moment – Gorgon LNG and the Roy Hill Iron Ore mine – although they’ll be finishing soon,” he said.
“It is correct that construction employment is holding up but I suspect that it will fall away in the next few months,” he said.
Mr Catchpole said the sector underpinned years of economic growth and supported Australia’s economy through the global financial crisis.
“Government now needs to ramp up support for skills development, research, innovation and productivity improvements,” he said.
“Then we can maintain Australia’s position, not just as a commodities exporter, but a leading exporter of skills, technology and equipment to the global mining industry.”
Source: ABC News