Random Analytics: Mining Workforce Planning Scan (May 2013)

by Shane Granger

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

There has been a marked decrease in mining industry Employment sentiment since the recent high experienced just three months ago in March, returning to levels I have not seen since the commodity crash of mid-2012. At the same time as Employment sentiment is hitting worrisome levels the discussion about skills shortages in the mining sector has been null and void for 2013, potentially reflecting an industry that is waning even faster than the pundits are suggesting by the reducing FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) figures.

To highlight this issue Coffey announced 54 projects that it had projected consulting on were either delayed or cancelled with a Q4 reduction in revenue of nearly $14-million (see Geosciences Contracted Projects Delayed or Cancelled and thanks to Andrew Duffy for tweeting this prior to his overseas trip). This loss of revenue may well result in the loss of around 150-jobs from the Australian Geosciences and Project Management business.

1 - Coffey-Projects-Cancelled

While some of the figures look grim, projects are still going ahead. During the month an iron ore junior, Sherwin Iron got the nod while discussions are progressing on all the mega-coal mines in Queensland are still progressing (although whether its momentum carrying it forward may be a question worth asking). Even while coal struggles, juniors, such as Taroborah Coal are still moving ahead on community consultations.

It really is a case of one step forward, two steps back.


Employment was the leading category with 24-stories (25.5%), the fourth month in a row. Of the past 12-months, Employment has been the leading category nine times centred around the commodity crash from mid-2012 and in the New Year as continued cost cutting has impacted on jobs.

Like April, WH&S (Work Health & Safety) was the second leading category with 23-stories (24.5%) and IR (Industrial Relations) was third with 11-stories (11.7%).

If you want to get a feel for where mining is going there have been no stories recorded for SkillsShort (Skills Shortages) in May and only one article in 2013. What this is telling me is that mining is cutting employee’s quickly enough that new ventures have enough candidates to fill most of their hard-to-fill and critical roles and the operational critical roles (generally only around 5% of a workforce) and holding onto positions rather than risk a move.

2 - Mining_Categories_May2013

Positive/Negative Index

For the first time since October 2012, Employment has returned to being the most negative indicator. With five positive and 16-negative stories which resulted in a minus -11 reading for May. What is more concerning is that just two months ago this category had its highest reading in a year and looked to be on an improved trend-line.

For the third consecutive month and with three positive stories and nothing negative reported L&D/R&D (Learning & Development/Research & Development) finished as the most positive indicator. Given that it looks at mainly positive stories about mining L&D investment or education programs over the past 12-months this indicator has been the most positive on six occasions.

3 - Mining_PosNegIndex_May2013

Mining Employment Gains & Losses

May was the first month that saw 2013 numbers fewer than 1,000 (with no employment opportunities discussed in 2014). With just 1,190 jobs new positions reported over the next five years it was also the worst month in terms of employment projection on record for this year.

As discussed in the introduction there were three articles where the number of infrastructure and operational jobs on offer exceeded 100. They were Sherwin Iron (600), Taborah Coal (330) and Northern Platinum (200 from 2015). On the negative side Coffey were looking to cut 150 followed by Transfield (113), BHP Iron (100) and Boggabri (106). Controversially, the job losses which hit Boggabri in NSW were featured on ABC 7.30 as local workers were cut over 457-visa employees.

4 - Mining_Employment_May2013

Here’s a look at the May data.

5 - Mining_Data_May2013

Story of the Month

My pick of the month is a story of three parts. It’s a story of a company trying to de-unionise its workforce by recruiting cleanskins. Based on the numbers it’s also a fantastic recruitment story for a 100% FIFO workforce. Again, based on the numbers it’s also a tale of how hard it must be to break into the mining industry without relevant experience.

After taking 14,000 applications for the 750 jobs on offer for Brisbane residents in its Bowen Basin mines, BMA closed off its Cairns recruitment campaign after receiving 8,000 applications for just 250-positions. This means that for Brisbane there were 18.7 applicants per position, while for North Queensland the ratio was 32 to one.

With this level of positive attraction in the recruitment campaign (and even with a potential 15-25% turnover for FIFO workers) it would now seem reasonable to suggest that the union campaign against BMA waged through to 2012 was misjudged to the detriment of local workers. Obviously the tier one miners will accept more expensive deployment models and malleable staff over instability.

It will be interesting to see how the IR story plays out in coming months if the mining sector continues to ease.

Final Thoughts

In my February Mining Workforce Planning Scan I stated that the mining sector had returned to Business As Usual, although cost cutting would be ongoing. Now that we are in the first week of June with End of Financial Year just around the corner you can just see the hint of troublesome currents.

Although a minus -11 Employment sentiment is awful, it’s not as bad as September 2012 when the commodity decline saw that number down as low as minus -20.

If we were to see a similar or worse number in June I would then be starting to get really concerned, especially if we started to see more than just cost-cutting numbers come through.

But then again, things could just return back to normal.

Note: My previous post on Mining Workforce Planning Scans can be found at Random Analytics: Mining Workforce Planning Scan (Apr 2013)