By Tara Diamond, Australian Resources & Energy Employer Association Deputy CEO
As it has throughout history, the resilience of Australia’s resources and energy industry continues to rise above all. Despite this, the impact of ongoing labour and skills shortages continues to be felt across the resources and energy industry.
In the face of domestic policy pressures and global economic and geopolitical headwinds, the number of projects, jobs and capital investment on the horizon is only trending upwards.
AREEA’s latest Resources and Energy Workforce Forecast (2023–2028) report, released in August 2023, shows 103 major resources and energy projects in Australia’s investment pipeline – either already committed or considered advanced by AREEA’s analysts – likely to enter production between the second half of 2023 and end of 2028.
The 2023–2028 forecasted projects are worth about $142 billion in capital value and promise nearly 30,000 new production-related jobs. Factoring in hundreds of additional projects in earlier feasibility – and the employment benefits across construction and production – the resources and energy sector could easily account for more than 100,000 new job opportunities.
Western Australian muscle
The strength of Western Australia should come as no surprise. The state remains the country’s mining and energy powerhouse, directly employing 166,000 people or roughly 53 per cent of the national industry workforce.
While overwhelmingly the largest and most mature jurisdiction, Western Australia has still added 45,000 new workers over the past two years, and increased its projected workforce growth by 14 per cent since AREEA’s 2022 forecast.
Western Australia has 46 projects advanced in its five-year investment pipeline, which, according to AREEA’s modelling based on Department of Industry project data, will create demand for 12,800 new workers.
A boom in lithium and other critical mineral developments is a key driver.
Our modelling shows critical minerals, and lithium prominently, will need 2,900 new workers over the next five years. Iron ore accounts for 3,900, gold just under 1,000 and other minerals about 2,200 forecasted jobs.
Skills in highest demand will include operators – with more than 4,000 likely to be needed – as well as heavy diesel fitters, other trades, engineering and geology roles.
However, the skills shortage crisis is far from over – posing areal threat to $92 billion of major project investment in Western Australia’s five-year outlook.
Overcoming skills shortage challenges
The biggest challenge for Western Australia’s resources companies will be finding those almost 13,000 extra workers.
Over the past five years skills shortages have become progressively worse, to the point that labour supply is as big a factor in approving growth projects as commercial considerations.
The industry’s existing labour force is unlikely to offer any real relief. Creative solutions for short-, medium- and long-term outcomes must be examined and this is where government, industry and social and training stakeholders need to work more closely towards coordinated outcomes.
As the resources and energy industry’s employer representative body, AREEA acknowledges the Federal Government’s recent Employment White Paper, Working Future.
AREEA urges the government’s jobs plan to incorporate solutions to well-known problems in the training pipeline by improving VET and other training outcomes, labour mobility and access to skilled migration.
Strong additional investment in TAFE and apprenticeships is essential – especially advanced skill apprenticeships – with better links between secondary school, vocational education providers and universities.
AREEA welcomes the Federal Government’s commitment to a national skills passport – making it easier for businesses and workers to plug employment gaps and for portability of qualifications across jurisdictions.
On the other hand, the Federal Government has embarked on the most significant changes to Australia’s workplace relations system since the Fair Work Act took effect in 2009.
New laws from June 2023 are forcing employers into multi- enterprise bargaining, have provided unions with greater workplace influence and given the Fair Work Commission more interventionist powers.
Further, should the ‘Closing Loopholes Bill’ be passed into law, AREEA believes workplace flexibility will be diminished – not enhanced – with casual employment, labour hire and independent contracting all under attack.
AREEA maintains that the government cannot continue to ignore the direct correlation between the strength of theAustralian resources and energy industry and the nation’s economic wellbeing.
Budget windfalls in Western Australia, Queensland and the recently updated Federal Budget surplus of more than $22 billion were delivered on the back of record resources export volumes, royalties and taxation revenues.
These receipts are integral to public investment in the services we need such as Medicare, hospitals, schools, aged care and infrastructure.
If employment strategies are not focused on nurturing opportunities in the resources and energy sector, AREEA believes revenues foregone will impact the future standard of living of all Australians.
Even as AREEA continues to lobby against the government’s productivity- and jobs-killing IR agenda, we’re ramping up our industry support – from onsite training, advisory boards, workshops and briefings to webinars and workplace resources.
Recently, we released a comprehensive culture and leadership report, a national workplace sexual harassment campaign titled ‘That’s why I speak up’, a female role model toolkit, and a workforce insights and remuneration analysis.
The commitment of employers in the sector to career development and opportunities for women is starting to pay off. For example, in managerial and specialist roles, we know women are being promoted, on average, at an earlier age than men.
From trades to surveyors, geologists and engineers, it’s not about just welcoming women to a sector traditionally dominated by men.
The industry needs women’s skills to grow, innovate and thrive.
Building the future at a primary school level
AREEA’s Bright Future STEM Primary School Program is another exciting initiative. In 2023 we hit new heights, thanks to the hard work and enthusiasm of AREEA’s organising team – including our role model industry partners.
Through STEM-related activities – and with the help of these generous partners – a record 10,000 Year 5 and 6 students (more than double last year’s total) drew positive connections between their schoolwork and future opportunities in the resources and energy industry.
The 2023 program:
- Engaged with 10,000 primary school students
- Visited 102 schools across Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory
- Featured industry role models from 20 member companies – Agnico Eagle, AngloAmerican, Byrnecut, ConocoPhillips, Deepcore Drilling, Fortescue, Gold Fields, Howden Australia, INPEX, Mandalay Resources, Monadelphous,Newmont Australia, Pembroke Resources, Santos, Sibelco, Sodexo, Stawell Gold, Thiess, UGL and VIVA Energy
- Designed and developed STEM activities featuring VR Headsets, Edison (Robots), Dr Eureka, Gravitrax, Snap Circuits and Turing Tumble
The resources and energy industry is forecasting major growth in STEM-related careers.
Paradoxically, study in these subjects has declined in recent years.
The Bright Future STEM Primary School Program is a commitment to turning this around.
In particular, opening the eyes of girls and boys to future opportunities in the industry, based on innovation, sustainability, diversity and growth.
This 2023–2028 report is the fourth in AREEA’s Workforce Forecast series, and the hope is that it will add value to member companies and their requirements across workforce planning, talent retention strategies and labour market analysis.
The full report is available to read at: www.areea.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/20230901_AREEA_Resources_Energy_Workforce_2023-2028.pdf