Australian companies in the resources sector should be able to hire more workers from abroad, according to Steve Knott, chief executive of the Australian Mines and Metals Association.

He called for the government to make a triple fronted attack to deal with the skills shortage confronting the resource industry to include a relaxation of the criteria for companies to bring overseas workers into the country, more training and targeting of women.

The AMMA is warning that a massive skills shortage is confronting the resources sector with 86% of companies are having trouble recruiting staff. It also says that the worsening labor shortage is hurting productivity, could impede growth and push projects offshore.

Knott said that he wants the capital expenditure threshold for employers to access Enterprise Migration Agreements reduced from $2 billion to $1 billion and minimum workforce requirements dropped from 1,500 to 500 so another 15 projects can utilize the megaprojects scheme.

He said there are 94 resource projects at an advanced stage of development worth a record $173.5 million and needing thousands of workers to get off the ground. He also pointed out that job vacancy rates in resources are at an all time high of 3.9% compared with 1.2% in the manufacturing sector and 1.9% in the construction industry.

The sector is also facing huge wages bills as companies try to compete with offshore projects, with casual daily pay rates in offshore construction having increased by 37% since July 2009.

"The existence of a labor shortage in the Australian resource industry and the detrimental impact this is having on the productivity of enterprises is now beyond doubt," Knott said.

"Unwarranted restrictions on the ability for employers to source skilled labor from overseas could limit future growth and lead to projects or parts of projects being relocated offshore," he explained.

Speaking at the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies conference in Perth, he revealed that 86% of AMMA members surveyed in the middle of May on future workforce requirements indicated they are currently experiencing a critical skills shortage.

"The stark reality facing our nation is we need to look beyond traditional supply areas to access enough workers to do the job," he said.

He also pointed that 92% of members want to employ more women in the industry. Currently only one in five workers are female.

"AMMA believes the industry and government must work together to highlight to women the benefits of careers in the mining industry, including generous wages and entitlements," he said.

"Those benefits will be particularly attractive to younger women who have fewer careers' responsibilities and who should be encouraged to take advantage of the high earning potential while they are young and carefree," he added.

Knott explained that despite the efforts of government and industry to encourage interstate migration, hire more graduates and increase training, the skills shortage was going to get worse. "The demand for highly skilled employees will only grow in years to come," he concluded.