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Addressing skill shortages

Addressing skill shortages

The resources industry is currently experiencing significant skill and labour shortages that threaten to impact growth. In Western Australia alone, the Chamber of Minerals and Energy predicts the state will require over 40,000 additional skilled workers in the next two years, with the shortfall peaking at 33,000. 

The constrained labour market is a result of the COVID-19 restrictions that have impacted the import of labour from overseas and across state borders, in addition to the challenges of managing both snap and extended lockdowns. This has not only impacted productivity levels for many but also increased the cost of hiring. These restrictions have plagued the industry for almost 18 months and are expected to continue into the next year.

To address labour shortages some organisations have had to modify their operating strategy. For example, Silver Lake Resources has cut mill operations to focus on stockpiles at the Mount Monger gold mine. While others have delayed aspects of their operations, like Albemarle who has delayed the second stage of its Kemerton lithium processing plant by three months as a result of labour constraints. 

Some organisations have shifted their recruitment focus to training entry-level workers. At its Mount Isa operations, Glencore has recently opened up 40 new positions for apprentices in addition to the existing 266 apprentices and 115 graduates currently on staff. While this goes some way to addressing immediate skill shortages, the inexperienced nature of apprentices and junior staff means it will take many years before full productivity can be realised through this strategy. But it ensures a strong pipeline of skilled labour for the industry into the future. 

Another strategy being employed is to retrain workers from other industries adversely impacted by the global pandemic. For example, Roy Hill has looked to the aviation and defence industries to fill vacant roles. 

For those organisations with a pipeline of interstate workers, they’re encouraging adjustments to the traditional fly-in, fly-out arrangements. Rather than returning interstate for breaks, some companies are encouraging workers to remain within their state to avoid being stranded due to lockdowns. 

Another solution to the skills shortage is automation. This doesn’t necessarily mean replacing labour but rather utilising different skill sets to perform tasks. For example, automated machinery can be operated remotely by a more flexible workforce that isn’t impacted by border closures. 

While the global pandemic continues to create new challenges for businesses, it has shown that it also provides opportunities for organisations to try new and innovative ways of working. 

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