The mining industry is facing a talent shortage, and hiring
managers will have to become cannier to attract the right
people. According to a study by the Minerals Council of
Australia, The Labour Force Outlook in the Australian
Minerals Sector, the industry will need an additional
86,000 mining professionals and skilled mine workers by
Head hunters working the sector say that high salaries will
not be enough to attract talented people. Candidates are
instead prioritising a clear career path and on-the-job
"The mining industry can learn to engage more with its
prospective workforce in order to remain competitive and to
attract the right people," Janet Bewsey, senior research
associate at executive search firm Swann Global, told
Shrinking talent pool
The mining sector is a 'grey-haired’ industry,
according to sources familiar with the sector. The median age
of the US labour force is 45.7 years of age in mining, compared
to 42.3 years in all US industries, according to the US
Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor
The data suggests that 49,000, or 21%, of senior mining
workers are due to retire by 2019, rising to 120,000, or 52%,
"It is these senior professionals who are best positioned to
provide the skills, knowledge and 'safe pair of
hands’ to lead the sector through this period of
turbulence," according to consultancy Ernst &
Young’s report Productivity in Labour, Mining
& Minerals 2014.
Yet there is no one available to fill the void. In the early
1990s an economic downturn hit much of the world, forcing
several major economies including the US, Canada, and Australia
into detraction. During this period, mining resources were not
required as a global recession bit.
"There is a short supply of skills [in the mining industry]
because for a long period in the 1990s no one was training
mining engineers," said Bewsey.
The sector presently lacks senior executives with around
15-20 years’ experience. This skill set is so much
in demand that it can command salaries of £90,000
($138,686*) to £175,000, according to industry insiders
who wish to remain anonymous.
The sector is also losing the correct engineering skills.
Mineral processing engineering, metallurgy engineering, and
pyro-metallurgy engineering are in short supply, according to
Dr. Andrew Wetherelt, programme director for undergraduate
mining at the University of Exeter in the UK.
"Minerals processing engineering seems to be a less
'sexy’ choice for undergraduates, and as a result,
these people are like hens’ teeth to find for this
employment sector," he explained to IM.
The University of Exeter’s Camborne School of
Mines put its Minerals Engineering MSc course on hold last year
after it was unable to attract enough undergraduates. The
degree usually needs between 10-12 students per year, but in
the academic year 2013/2014 it only had three, according to
The Camborne School of Mines, part of the University of
Exeter, is routinely oversubscribed in every other course apart
from minerals engineering.
For Emin Eyi, the managing director of antimony exploration
and production company Tri-Star Resources, the problem is on
the job training.
"Mining companies have been outsourcing everything and when
you do that you lose years of knowledge. When you lose
in-country employment, you lose training, you lose colleges and
you lose research and development (R&D)," Eyi told
The processing and metallurgy skillset directly impacts a
mining company’s profit and loss (P&L),
explained Bewsey. Skills like beneficiation and flotation make
or break how much of the commodity is produced, and experience
is essential. "You do need a period of mentoring to learn this
skill set properly," said Bewsey.
"However, mining companies do not make it easy for young
people to enter into exploration and production (E&P)
businesses and these companies are now struggling to find these
"The mining companies need to sponsor a final year student
and convert them into a minerals engineer. Vacation positions
are mandatory for our degrees. We are more than happy for
mining and minerals companies to contact us and to offer
vacation positions," he told IM.
Companies need to break the costly pattern of hiring rapidly
in an upswing and shedding in a downswing if they want to
preserve talent, says Ernst & Young. Offering better
technical mentoring and improved career path visibility is a
smarter way forwards.
"People don’t want to
fly in, fly out, (FIFO) anymore," said Bewsey. "Older
miners used to be able to relocate with their families but
modern candidates see little of family life."
Retaining candidates is essential, recruiters agree. More
flexible working arrangements such as increasing part-time
arrangements, reduced hours, and long service leave can
distinguish an employer from its rivals.
According to the Minerals Council of
Australia’s 2013 report Geographic Labour
Mobility: Submission on the Productivity
Commission’s Issues Paper, 97% of the mining
sector’s workforce is currently full time.
Mapping talent and investing in staff development is another
important strategy, according to the Ernst & Young study.
Redeploying staff into product groups where complementary skill
sets are used can help reduce talent leakage.
One or two businesses are trialling rotational placements,
and making it easier for women in technical
companies to develop, but there is considerable room for
improvement in the industry as a whole, said Bewsey.
"The industry is concerned that if they train people, they
will move on," said Bewsey.
However, the sector has learned that stratospheric salaries
and bidding wars are unsustainable ways of attracting
"When companies are hiring permanent staff they are finding
it challenging to attract staff away from their existing
employers. Candidates need to be convinced that the role is
stable before being lured by an attractive salary package,"
Chris Kent, the regional director for Sydney of recruitment
company Hays Resources & Mining, told
"Ultimately we will need lower base salaries and better ways
of remunerating against performance," said Bewley.
Mining is experiencing a slump but this will change as the
world heads into a so-called 'Knowledge
Renaissance’, believes Eyi.
In 2013, the number of patents filed globally hit 2.35m,
counting for more than a quarter of all known patents in
force. This is also more than the US patent office processed
in the first 50 years of the 20th century, according to
Tri-Star Resources’ April 2014 presentation at
the Madrid Antimony conference.
Win the talent war –
Secure, flexible, working arrangements (e.g.
part time, job sharing)
Productivity-based performance incentives
Leveraging technology to minimise the need
for fly in, fly out (FIFO)
Mentoring or coaching roles
Personalised support to transition to
Tailored rewards programmes to meet personal
people across mine sites within the
Source: Ernst & Young Productivity
in Labour: Mining and Metals report
"A large proportion of these patented products will
require sophisticated minerals like antimony," said
Eyi to IM. "But where are we
going to process these things? Where are the
In the last big minerals boom in 2009, bottlenecks
that highlighted staffing and personnel issues
revealed themselves, Eyi
told IM. This varies, however,
from geography to geography.
In Australia, staffing is easier, said recruiters.
Australian companies have been more successful over a
longer period of time at offering a great deal more
postgraduate development to their employees. As a
consequence, employers appreciate someone who has a
background working in Australia, said Paloma
Ortiz-Lopez, recruitment consultant at consultancy
"Every single person I talk to in my market wants to
go to Australia," Ortiz-Lopez added.
In Europe the situation is more acute, as not
enough mining takes place for young people to get
into the industry, said Bewsey.
However some businesses are recruiting competitively. UK
gypsum producer British Gypsum makes a concerted effort to
reach out to graduate students, according to Wetherelt. The
company, based in Leicestershire, UK, runs open days and
accepts placement students to attract the best graduates.
"Many students choose to go overseas but if you engage
them properly it can be different," said Wetherelt.
"It’s a good time for the UK industrial minerals
market because the numerous overseas opportunities are not
This will change as the innovation boom bites.
Roles in short supply according to the recruiters polled
include: mining engineers, mineral processing engineers,
metallurgy professionals, pyro-metallurgy professionals,
underground electricians, residential geologists, maintenance
planners, maintenance supervisors, reliability engineers,
rubber liners, geotechnical experts, geomechanical experts
and maintenance professionals.