The mining boom, once driven by China’s insatiable hunger for coal and iron ore, is over. As Chinese economic growth has slowed, demand has dropped dramatically, hitting commodity prices—and mining industry profits—hard.
Employment numbers demonstrate the decline. In October 2012, at the peak of the boom, 275,100 people were employed in the mining sector, making up 2.43% of Australian employment overall. Since then 44,000 mining jobs have disappeared and that percentage has dropped to 1.96%.
The slack labour market has left many people, including highly qualified mining engineers, out of work. But there are positives to the situation. In fact, an exodus from the sector could benefit employers in other industries where finding skilled and experienced talent can be difficult.
The end of the boom spells trouble for mining engineers
Mining engineers are highly skilled professionals responsible for planning and directing every engineering-related aspect of the location and extraction of minerals, petroleum, and natural gas from the earth. Here in Australia, employers generally seek out candidates with the relevant Bachelor’s degree or higher level of qualification. On top of that, they prefer engineers to have worked in the field for several years, acquiring real-world experience. And no wonder: The consequences of sloppy work in a mine can be disastrous.
In short, this is not a job that just anyone can do, and it takes time and hard work to acquire genuine expertise. However, the unfortunate fact is that according to government data, the supply of mining engineers in the market outstrips demand. In fact, by 2019 the number of mining engineers in work is expected to decline from today’s 12,200 to 11,400.
Meanwhile, Indeed data confirms this slackening of the labour market:
As the chart shows, a drop in the number of available posts between October 2013 and October 2014 corresponded with a rise in job seeker interest. The reason is simple: As struggling mining companies increased layoffs, so newly unemployed mining engineers began searching for work in their field.
Unfortunately for these professionals, the demand gap will only widen further as employment in their industry continues to fall in Australia—as is predicted to happen over the next five years.
What does this mean for employers?
With so many skilled professionals hunting for work, employers today have the advantage when it comes to attracting talent. Firms that adapt to the mining industry’s new circumstances will have a larger pool of experienced candidates to draw upon. As a result, recruiters can be more selective with their hires and focus on attracting the best of the best to work for them.
But not everybody who used to work in the mines will be able to find employment in the same area. Many people will have to reinvent themselves and market their skills and experience in other fields. One area which shows promise for those looking to make a change is the housing market, which has grown even as mining has declined. This has led many individuals previously employed in mining to pursue new career opportunities in construction.
Meanwhile, engineering positions in other industries are not always easy to fill—and the skill set of a mining engineer is related to the type of experience required to work in the civil, mineral and petroleum fields. The end of the mining boom presents recruiters in these areas with an opportunity to capitalize on the influx of well-educated, experienced individuals into the labour market. Active, motivated professionals can transition to different sectors where demand for their skills is higher—and savvy employers should seek to encourage and facilitate that shift.
After all, in today’s global economy it’s no longer a good strategy to rely on one sector or set of skills. For both employers and job seekers alike, flexibility, adaptability and a creative, active approach are central to success.