Is the Goldfields hiring woes just a reflection of the changing workforce?

Design 25In recent weeks there has been some media attention about the ability of the mining industry to attract workers. There was this article by ABC Kalgoorlie’s Jarrod Lucus addressing the decline in enrolments for professional mining careers and then this one last week about the difficulty in filling FIFO jobs.

I’ve worked in HR on both FIFO and Kalgoorlie residential sites, the prime recruiter on both so I’m aware of how hard it is to attract workers to live in town v’s FIFO. But the decline in WASM & other University enrolments for professional mining roles signifies that there has even been a move away from the desirability of FIFO opportunities as well.

FIFO can be hard on a lot of people, you’re away from your family and friends at least 50% of the year, you miss sharing milestones in your’s and your loved ones lives and it can play havoc with your mental health. Then factor in the long hours, and in some cases long rosters, over indulging on camp food, celebrating shift change a little too much at the wet mess and lack of sleep from noisy neighbours and you have a recipe for poor health outcomes. The Mine Managers, Engineers, Geo’s and Met’s I knew on the FIFO site all worked beyond 12 hours a day, and while they were on the much more attractive roster of 8:6 they definitely worked astronomical hours for their salaries.

Similarly at residential sites these positions are employed on a 5:2 roster and it’s not uncommon for them to have been working close to, if not, 12 hour days throughout the boom, and generally for less money than their FIFO counterparts.

If we flick back to this blog post about Millennial employees I discuss the changing priorities of millennials which is shaping the new workforce, and a big driver is more balance in their lives ie: less bulk hours and more flexibility for leisure pursuits.

When it’s an employers market with an abundance of skilled candidates you can somewhat afford to sit back and say this is the roster, this is the salary, take it or leave it. We aren’t in that type of market right now, local sites that have operated for 20 years as 100% residential are flying in fitters and sparkies on FIFO contracts and in a few very short years the decline in WASM enrolments will start to cause some real pain.

So is the answer to this crisis actually that a career in mining is now on the nose to the new breed of employee, and the industry needs to act a little more strategically to win back that “cool factor” again? Is the answer to look at greater flexibility with rosters and work hours, less money directed towards flight & accommodation for FIFO’ing Kalgoorlie based positions and directing those funds to more attractive salaries to entice people to reside locally and bring their families to town. Because we know from past history iron ore pays more than gold, and you’re only 1 expansion project up north away from having zero candidates if you continue to look to FIFO as the solution to the problem. In my experience if you pay well and have a great reputation people will choose to work for you, but you need to present that as an attractive value proposition, employees want to sleep in their own beds, with their family & friends network close by and not knock off from work to go back to a lonely existence in a donga or hotel room. Yes, looking at alternative measures may affect the profitability of the business short term, but not as much as having no employees to keep production running in the future.

In business you need to adapt or die, you can’t remain relevant if you aren’t willing to embrace change.