Australian mining industry calls for flexible approach to immigration

by Ray Clancy on March 1, 2011

in Australia Immigration

Mining sector calls for visa issuance flexibility

Australia needs a flexible, targeted migration programme that can meet severe skills shortages in the mining sector, it is claimed.

As unemployment rates in the industry continue to fall the Chamber of Mining and Energy is urging the federal government to increase skilled immigration to help Australia’s mining sector cope with expected labour shortages in the near future.

It says that the increasing skills shortage will only get worse unless resource companies and the education sector work together. It predicts that Western Australia will require 26,000 extra workers by 2013.

The Western Australia resource sector has welcomed reports that the Federal Government is considering an expansion of the nation’s skilled migration programme. Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia (CME) Chief Executive Reg Howard-Smith said that where local workers could not be sourced, as companies need to look abroad.

‘The ability to source workers with specific skills sets will be a determining factor in projects being delivered on time and on budget, maximising the opportunities presented by current commodity demand,’ said Howard-Smith.

‘A steady supply of skilled workers will also help prevent a wider labour drain from other sectors. It’s important to understand that we are confronted by a lack of workers with specific skill sets, not a general labour shortage,’ he added.

CME’s latest Growth Outlook Study reveals that overall Western Australia resource companies would require an additional 38,000 workers over the next three to five years. Updated labour forecasts will be released in the next few months.

In Western Australia there are more than $170 billion worth of resource projects either under construction or awaiting a final investment decision. The industry advocates a multi-pronged approach to labour issues.

Howard-Smith said that apart from an efficient skilled migration programme, there needs to be continued investment in education and training, promotion of careers in resources and the targeting of groups traditionally under represented in the sector.

Steve McDonald from Skills DMC says at present many prospective and current workers do not have the necessary pathways to learn the skills required on site. ‘Those needs include where the training is delivered, how it’s delivered and whether it’s delivered in an environment that meets the needs of the industry and the individual that is being trained and that is a big ask and has always been difficult,’ he explained.

The concerns follow a report by Access Economics warning that a lack of skilled workers could stifle Australian economic growth. Australia’s immigration strategy includes immigration programs to attract economic migrants. You can live and work in Australia if you gain enough points under the General Skilled Migration programme or find an employer who can sponsor you.

In recent years there have been significant increases in exports of minerals to China including exports of large quantities of coal and iron ore. So professions and trade occupations in the mining industry are in particular demand in Australia.

Linda Crook, executive officer at Goldfields, says that lack of skilled labour is the main problem affecting Australia’s mining industry. ‘No mining operation can go ahead without a skilled workforce with a capacity to do everything that’s required, so it’s very important for any prospective mining operation to know that there is a workforce available to them,’ Crook said.

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