The exploration industry is rapidly growing and the demand for workers is certainly growing with it, expenditure in mineral exploration has grown 21% over the last year and is currently at the highest it’s been since 2012. Despite this growth, many in the industry believe that the labour shortage and difficulty in finding suitable employees is holding back investment in the booming market. Many exploration companies are having to knock back work and park up drilling rigs as they simply do not have the workers required to operate the rigs.
Multiple issues within the industry can be said to be a major reason for the labour shortage, one of which is the poor retention rate shared throughout the industry, with estimated figures being between 25-50% of new starters leaving within the first few months of their employment. It is difficult to fix the harsh conditions and family issues that would be explanatory for most of the departures, however, it is possible that more could be done to condition new starters before they get to site. High turnover has been prevalent in exploration drilling for the last 20 years and it is unlikely that there will be a sudden improvement.
Warren Pearce, Chief Executive of the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies attributes the border closures as the biggest cause, stating “we can’t train and can’t employ people that don’t exist here (WA)”, and suggested that maintaining open borders between states would go a long way to solving the labour shortage issue.
I would argue the people do exist; they just aren’t aware of how attractive a career in drilling can be.
A recent study showed that 43% of year 12 students didn’t know what they wanted to do after school, 81% of students wanted to go to university, and 25% of the ones wanting to attend university didn’t know what career they wanted to pursue. This strongly correlates with first-year University dropout figures, with 20% of students leaving before the end of their first year. That’s a large, untapped and ever replenishing talent pool that likely would have never even considered a career in exploration drilling.
University degrees have been sold to school students, even though they are aware they don’t know the career they are wanting to pursue 20% will still enrol and waste a year of their life and ~$9,000 because they feel that it is the “normal” or “right” thing to do.
The average graduate salary from the University of Western Australia is roughly $60,000, a drillers offsider is making more than $100,000 in their first year. If you present the 43% of students that don’t know what they want to do with the option of going to Uni and having a moderate chance of dropping out in the first year or the opportunity to make over $100,000 a year, while you gain life experience which could assist in your choice of future career. I suggest a vast majority would at least consider undertaking work as a driller’s offsider and of those that do, some would fall in love with the industry and make a career from it.
Even once you look past the incredible starting salary, the career development opportunities are second to none, the provision of fully paid tickets and qualifications and the typically well-defined ladder that an entry-level offsider can work his way up present an enticing package for those driven by career progression.
Despite the huge number of benefits to be gained from entering the drilling industry, when I attended school not too long ago, it wasn’t even presented as a viable option. I can safely say most of my peers would not have heard of a driller’s offsider let alone know what was involved with the role.
Marketing to our youth may not be a quick fix, but it could be a long term solution and aid in the prevention of having a labour shortage problem in the future.