The mining industry is an unique industry. Over the past decade mining companies face critical workforce issues driven mainly by generational and career shifts.
FIFO (fly in, fly out) workforces travel from across Australia and near abroad and encounter a number of challenges during their working cycles (or ‘swings’) ranging anywhere from 1 week on / 1 week off to 4 weeks on / 1 weeks off – sometimes longer. Their working and living conditions vary somewhat but can be extremely testing and even out-right dangerous with sometimes no access to the outside world, hundreds of miles from civilisation and on-site scarcity of bare essentials such as water. Given these circumstances, mining companies place special attention to workplace health and safety and expedite means including OH & S resources, processes and procedures, providing dedicated safety officers whom are tasked to train and enforce this upon the workforce and to manage any foreseeable risks.
Securing the mental wellbeing of mining staff is a serious factor as it has a direct impact on productivity. The extended working hours make it hard to stay connected with family back home and/or partake in decisions relating to their families and children. Furthermore, mobile connectivity is not always a given and workers can sometimes go for days on end without having access to workable internet connection due to regions remote or lack of bandwidth. Sometimes, an expensive communication method such as the satellite phone is the only way to get in touch with the outside world in case of an emergency. Lack of privacy is another problem with workers having to endure shared sleeping quarters in container like spaces where the separation walls are as thin as wall paper. In addition, there is peer pressure to engage in the few limited entertainment options available in the sparse free time resulting in often times having to indulge in a few too many. This has led to some of the companies enforcing drug testing every morning or instating alcohol-free mining camps. Finally, the work itself is not for the faint hearted and many times workers will walk off the job in the midst of a swing as they simply cannot deal with the environment any longer.
Therefore, a potential skills problem is looming due to the lack of mining engineers coming through the education system; not having the right resources at the right place; the amount of training and certification required to get workers up and running because of the high turnover of staff on certain mining sites. With job and career-hopping being the new normal in mining industry and the average attrition rate being between 3-5 years, the need for transformation is high.
As such, all these factors have a direct impact on the corporate culture and are ultimately affecting the bottom line which is already burdened by salary outliers in comparison to the blue collar workforce in other industries.
Recommendation: The Mining industry needs greater public awareness to address skills problems. It needs to overcome the lack of interest of young people in pursuing careers in Mining.
Recommendation: Not only personal safety but mental wellbeing should be addressed in HR plans and communications starting prior to onboarding the employee. The industry should look at how technology can help to improve these areas.