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Unemployment twice as high amongst mining-related professionals in Australia

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White collar workers are the unseen casualties of the slowdown in the resources industry.

As miners cut costs because of lower commodity prices they have reduced exploration and cut contractors.

Peter Macintosh has had a long and successful career as a chemical engineer and company boss.

He says he has been looking for a job in the resources industry for two years.

“To find a permanent role has been impossible so far,” he told the Business.

“I’ve been successful in getting a number of short term engagements but they’ve been very limited.”

Professionals have been feeling the pain as the mining investment boom has peaked.

Exploration has been the collateral damage.

The latest quarterly outlook by Australia’s commodities forecaster, the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE) found that exploration dropped by 12 per cent last financial year to nearly $7 billion.

AusIMM, the Australasian Institute of Minerals and Metallurgy, represents mining professionals such as geologists, metallurgists and chemical engineers.

Unemployment double national average

In a recent survey of its 14,000 members, AusIMM found that 12.2 per cent were unemployed – a jobless rate that is double Australia’s national unemployment rate.

AusIMM chief executive Michael Catchpole says the Northern Territory and Tasmania are the worst hit regions.

“We are seeing a switch away from major exploration programs and that’s meant that geologists – geoscientists in particular – have been particularly hard hit by this wave of unemployment,” he said.

Mr Catchpole says one-in-ten mining professionals have been made redundant over the past year.

He has called for mining professionals to be removed from the 457 visa list because of the high rate of unemployment in the industry in Australia.

“When are our members are finding it difficult to find employment then its difficult to balance what the 457 visa holders program is versus what the labour market is saying in terms of skills shortages,” he said.

A survey by recruitment firm, DFP Resources, found that job vacancies in the resources industry slumped by one third over the past year.

Firms adapting for survival

Perth based geological consultancy, CSA Global, has laid off about 40 per cent of staff since the peak of the mining boom.

Its managing director Jeff Elliott says the mining industry is cyclical and everyone is feeling the squeeze as the resources sector slows down.

While one part of the sector isn’t going that well, other parts of the sector are.
CSA Global MD Jeff Elliott

“Everyone’s in the same boat. It doesn’t matter if its geological consultancies like ours, drilling contractors, labatories, everyone shares the pain together its part of the cyclical industry that we have,” he said.

CSA Global now has 90 staff, and Mr Elliott says the company has kept afloat by having fingers in many pies across commodities and countries.

“There are the ways that we try and cover all angles,” he said.

“While one part of the sector isn’t going that well, other parts of the sector are.”

Peter Macintosh is having to dip into his savings to make ends meet and is looking at investments and self-employment.

He is also volunteering for professional societies like AusIMM.

However, he is hoping his luck will change soon.

“There’s a lot of people of my age who have a lot of talent, a strong desire to work, keen, enthusiastic for the industry,” he said.

“I’d love to find more ways that employers and people who want to tap into that talent can find the people who got those talents.”

His advice to new mining-related university graduates: don’t give up.

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