As a potential skills shortage in Western Australia threatens to delay the progress of the recovering mining sector, employers are having to find new ways to make working in the industry an attractive prospect.

People get into the mining industry for various reasons, but without delving too far into the research you would expect higher-than-average wages to be a strong drawcard.

However, according to a 2018 Mining People International salary survey, only 24 per cent of people looking for a job rated salary as their top priority.

Interestingly, in a follow-up survey, 78.45 per cent of people who did have a job felt they weren’t being paid what they were worth.

Mining People International Managing Director Steve Heather said the results showed job seekers were looking for more than just good pay, but were also unlikely to stick with a role for long if they thought they were worth more.

“Our results considered together tell us if employers take the results of the first poll in isolation and determine they don’t need to be too concerned with pay, they are at risk of losing good people,” he said.

Even if raising wages could be the answer to attracting more people to mining, Mr Heather believed a ‘bidding war’ between companies should be avoided at all costs.

“If you pick one element of the package in isolation – salary for example – and only use it to compete, then the industry attracts the types of people for whom cash is their biggest motivator and I don’t believe this always gets the best fitting people to come into the mining industry,” he said.

Supporting FIFO workers

A WA Government-funded report released in December last year confirmed widely held views that fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers have higher levels of psychological distress than non-FIFO workers.

Out of 3000 FIFO workers who participated in the research, 33 per cent experienced high levels of psychological distress compared to 17 per cent for non-FIFO workers.

The report gave 18 recommendations including more rest time, permanent rooms at accommodation sites and building community connections.

The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety is currently drafting a code of practice for mental health in workplaces for FIFO workers in the resources and construction sector.

CFMEU Mining and Energy General Secretary Grahame Kelly said there was a lot mining companies could do to improve work/life balance and attract and retain employees.

“Workers’ mental health is best supported by having good working conditions in place, especially ensuring they have shifts and rosters that allow plenty of time for rest and time with friends and family,” he said.

‘Workplaces should have fair processes that respect and trust workers, rather than subjecting them to micromanagement or bullying.

“In addition, employers should offer support services to any employees experiencing mental health issues.

“Eight-hour rather than 12-hour shifts are much more manageable for some people and could be easily accommodated by operators.”

Mr Kelly said a high turnover rate of employees was a very big problem for the industry.

“Mines are dangerous work environments and high turnover means that the proportion of workers who are new and unfamiliar with the environment is growing,” he said. “This is a problem for safety and production. Failing to invest in retention of workers is a false economy.

“Improving work/life balance doesn’t really require innovation, it requires consultation with workers and a genuine commitment to listening and acting on their requirements and concerns.”

Accommodating your workforce

Gold Fields Executive Vice President Australasia Stuart Mathews said attracting workers for FIFO roles was a growing challenge with the current level of development activity around Australia.

Gold Fields and its joint venture partner Gold Road Resources will need 90 permanent staff when their $621 million Gruyere gold project begins this year.

Since kicking o  recruitment for operational roles in December, Mr Mathews said there had been an overwhelming response and was con dent favourable working conditions would keep employees around for the long-term.

The project, which is set to produce 300,000 ounces of gold a year over a minimum 12-year mine life, will need process plant operators, electrical technicians, crane operators, boilermakers and lab technicians

The site will run on an eight-days-on, six-days-o  roster to make it more attractive for workers with families or those chasing a more balanced work lifestyle.

“We have put a lot effort into the design and construction of the on-site village, which is walking distance from the mine’s airport, which means our workers spend less time on buses and waiting around,” Mr Mathews said.

“The village itself has a range of sporting and recreational facilities including a gym with personal trainers, basketball courts and a cricket pitch.

“The rooms have comfortable fit outs and wi-fi bandwidth that is on average 400 times faster than Perth, which is great for internet connectivity and streaming video.”

Mr Mathews said working conditions at Gruyere would mirror a lot of what Gold Fields does at its other operations.

“One area where we also continue to place a big emphasis on is our responsibilities in terms of the mental health of our team members,” he said.

“We provide them with the channels needed if they want additional support and assistance, but also initiatives that provide them with different interests to make them even more settled and comfortable when they are on site.

“For example, we have recently established a purpose-built music room at our Granny Smith operation which is kitted out with drum kits, guitars and other instruments.”