A detailed insight into the current state of professional employment in the resources sector, which suggests that the industry is returning to a stable employment market
The AusIMM is the peak body for professionals and managers in the resources sector and represents 13 000 members working in Australia and internationally.
Every year, the AusIMM conducts its annual Professional Employment Survey, which provides a detailed insight into the current state of the employment market for professionals in the resources sector.
The information gathered will play a key role in AusIMM’s policy and communication initiatives throughout the next 12 months. The AusIMM will continue to advocate for employment stability in the resources sector to ensure there is a manageable pipeline of professionals into the future, thereby ensuring the viability of the industry as a whole.
In June 2017, the AusIMM invited all members to complete the survey. In addition to collating and interpreting employment and unemployment data amongst resources industry professionals, the 2017 survey also included questions relating to remuneration.
It is important that we have a representative sample from our membership; in 2017 we received a significant response to the survey of 1955, with these responses distributed evenly across all major AusIMM membership demographics in line with previous years.
It is evident from the results of the 2017 survey that the resources sector is returning to a stable employment market, with a reduction in overall unemployment. On current trends, unemployment rates in the sector will return to national unemployment levels within 12 months. Remuneration results indicate a stagnation in professional salaries since 2014.
The key themes to emerge from this year’s survey include:
- falling unemployment with unemployment rates amongst Australia-based AusIMM members dropping from 14.1 per cent in 2016 to 7.4 per cent in 2017, compared to a national unemployment rate of 5.6 per cent
- a remarkably low unemployment rate for female resources professionals, down to 3.7 per cent from 8.7 per cent in 2016. This is in contrast to male resources professionals, whose unemployment rate is at 8.1 per cent (down from 14.3 per cent in 2016)
- reduction in reports of redundancies in the year July 2016 to June 2017, down to 9.1 per cent from 16.4 per cent in 2016 and 15.5 per cent in 2015
- a higher proportion of members who are unemployed are in the category of long-term (more than 12 months) unemployed
- improved confidence in employment opportunities with 65 per cent of respondents anticipating increased industry opportunity in the next 12 months (up from 29 per cent in 2016) and 56 per cent expecting improved opportunities for themselves personally (compared with 32 per cent in 2016)
- improvement in student confidence in employment within the sector postgraduation; increasing to 45 per cent from 34 per cent in 2016 and 29 per cent in 2015
Remuneration and benefits
- survey data suggests that real wage growth is flat in 2017
- a gender pay gap is evident in survey data with female members reporting lower wages than their male counterparts in all career levels other than Level 1 (graduate)
- key employer-employee metrics of benefits including professional development support continued to decline in 2017, according to survey responses.
Demographic analysis from this survey indicated our sample is broadly consistent with AusIMM’s underlying membership distribution. An overwhelming majority of survey respondents (79.8 per cent) reside within Australia, with two per cent of respondents in New Zealand and the remaining 18.2 per cent based throughout Asia and internationally. Within Australia, most respondents were from the major mining states, with 38.5 per cent based in Western Australia, 27.1 per cent in Queensland, 15.2 per cent in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, 11.4 per cent in Victoria and Tasmania and 7.8 per cent in South Australia and the Northern Territory.
The age of survey respondents was representative of the broader membership, with all age groups represented with a comparable distribution to the membership. Male respondents made up 84.7 per cent of respondents with females accounting for 15.3 per cent of responses. This ratio is comparable to the broader AusIMM membership, which comprises 13.6 per cent women and 86.4 per cent men.
Over 90 per cent of survey respondents were classified as part of the workforce. This meant that they were either employed in any form including casual, part-time, full-time or voluntary; or actively looking for work. Results included in this report addressing unemployment and remuneration relate only to those respondents categorised as being part of the workforce.
Almost 50 per cent of workforce respondents are qualified in mining or process engineering (including metallurgy/chemical/materials engineering or geotechnical engineering).
Geoscientists made up a very large cohort of respondents (39.4 per cent of the workforce), with exploration and mining geologists being the major sub-disciplines at 18.5 and 13.9 per cent of the survey workforce respectively.
After rising sharply from a low of 1.7 per cent in 2012 to a peak of 16.2 per cent in 2015, unemployment fell slightly in 2016 to 13.5 per cent. Results from the 2017 survey show a significant drop in unemployment to 7.4 per cent for Australia-based mineral industry professionals and 8.2 per cent for members globally. In Australia, unemployment amongst resources sector professionals is still above the national trend of 5.6 per cent; however, this gap has closed significantly in the past 12 months.
This fall in AusIMM member unemployment does not appear to be driven by an increased uptake in jobs external to the industry, as only four per cent of members indicated they are employed outside the sector, which is comparable to 4.2 per cent shown in 2016 survey responses. Figure 1 shows the percentage of Australia-based respondents in the workforce experiencing unemployment as at June-July 2017. Figure 1 also shows national Australian unemployment data derived from Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), with comparisons between the years 2012 (prior to industry downturn) and 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Commodities and professional disciplines
Unemployment of professionals has fallen across nearly all commodities over the past 12 months with the exception of the iron ore sector, which showed no significant change (Figure 2). In 2017, unemployment in the iron ore sector remained high compared to other commodities at 14.4 per cent, after a sharp fall in 2016 from the historically high level of 23.2 per cent in 2015. Respondents working primarily with coal experienced a decrease in unemployment from 9.4 per cent in 2016 to 3.9 per cent in 2017, while the unemployment amongst respondents working across commodities dropped from 16.5 per cent in 2016 to 8.5 per cent in 2017.
When viewing unemployment by professional discipline, the Environmental science/engineering discipline was the only discipline showing no significant change (Figure 3). Employment of professionals in this discipline was already at a comparatively healthy level, with 4.9 per cent professional unemployment in 2016.
Geoscience and management employment rates continued to lag behind the rest of the industry, following the trend evident throughout the downturn. However, unemployment rates for these disciplines did fall significantly in the period 2016-2017 by 6.8 and 5.8 per cent to 10.3 and 8.5 per cent respectively. But these reductions in unemployment did not represent the biggest fall in unemployment, with metallurgy/material/chemical engineering discipline falling by eight per cent to a low rate of 3.1 per cent.
Unemployment has fallen across Australia and New Zealand (Figure 4); however, unemployment in Western Australia remains higher than the rest of the country (Figure 5). This appears to be largely driven by the higher unemployment rate in the iron ore sector (14.4 per cent) compared to other primary commodities (ranging from 3.5 to 9.4 per cent), as 77.6 per cent of respondents who indicated they worked in the iron ore sector reside in Western Australia.
Age and gender
According to 2017 survey data, unemployment has fallen significantly for all age groups. However, unemployment remains high amongst young professionals, with respondents in the 30 or under bracket seeing the smallest percentage gain in employment across all age groups.
Split by gender, survey data indicates that female unemployment for Australia-based AusIMM members is lower than males for the third consecutive year (Figure 6). This gap has widened again after narrowing in 2016, with 3.7 per cent of female respondents and 8.1 per cent of male respondents reporting unemployment in 2017. Analysing employment outside the sector offers a possible explanation for this difference. In 2015 and 2017, the percentage of members reporting they had taken employment outside the minerals sector was 5.7 per cent and three per cent greater for female respondents than male respondents. This discrepancy was only 0.7 per cent in 2016.
The pool of members remaining unemployed for greater than 12 months continues to grow significantly year-on-year since the beginning of the downturn in 2013 (Figure 7). In 2017, 53.1 per cent of respondents experiencing unemployment had been unemployed for more than 12 months.
Members aged 45 or older were significantly overrepresented in long-term unemployment. Seventy-three per cent of members unemployed for more than 12 months are aged 45 or older; however, only 52 per cent of total respondents fell within this age bracket. This is consistent with findings in the broader workforce; ABS data indicates that for the general population, unemployed people aged 45 years or older are more likely to be long-term unemployed.
Key secondary employment indicators
For this report, key secondary employment indicators include factors intended to measure churn, underemployment and overemployment, and softer measures such as professional development support. Together, these
may provide deeper insight into current employment conditions than the unemployment rate on its own.
In 2017, voluntary and forced redundancies fell significantly to 9.1 per cent compared to 2015 (16.4 per cent) and 2016 (15.5 per cent). This is consistent with a falling unemployment rate.
However, despite a fall in redundancies, churn remains high, and the proportion of members who report changing employers in the last 12 months continues to creep slowly upward. In 2017, 20.5 per cent of members reported changing employer compared to 18.3 per cent in 2015 and 19.5 per cent in 2016.
Respondents reporting pressure to work unpaid overtime was comparable to the previous two years at 39.1 per cent; however, members indicating they’d prefer to work fewer paid hours (overemployment) has continued to rise, at 24.3 per cent in 2017.
Underemployment has continued to fall from 5.9 per cent in 2016 to 3.8 per cent in 2017. Together, these factors suggest that employers are driving extra productivity out of their workforce.
Metrics intended to measure changes in employer support indicate a continued reduction in employee benefits such as professional development, rostered days off, onsite amenities and commute assistance. Measured by respondents indicating a decrease, no change, or increase over the past 12 months, net employer support fell over the past 12 months. These results suggest that employees may still be facing pressure from cost cutting.
Industry and personal outlooks
Respondents were asked to share their personal career expectations across the next 12 months, and their expectations of the industry over the next 12 months. For respondents not currently considered part of the workforce, the survey only recorded their industry outlook. Relative to 2016, the perceptions of opportunity within the sector have changed significantly, with a surge in positive outlooks in both categories. As shown in Figures 8 and 9, 56 per cent of respondents reported that they expected increased personal opportunity in the coming 12 months, while 65.3 per cent reported an expectation of increased opportunity in the industry overall. This figure has more than doubled since 2016, when only 29 per cent of respondents expected increased industry opportunity.
Remuneration data was previously collected every second year up until 2016-17. As in previous years, respondents were asked to indicate their responsibility level on the scale shown in Table 1.
This survey indicates wages for resources industry professionals were stagnant in real terms across all levels over the previous 12 months, which continues a trend established in 2014 (Figure 10). Level 1, 2 and 3 employees are earning in real terms approximately the same as professionals at those levels in 2010. Level 4 and 5 employees are earning significantly less than 2012 salaries.
Remuneration by gender
In addition to providing annual salary, respondents are asked to indicate, on average, how many hours they work in either a week, fortnight or month. This figure is then used to calculate an average hourly wage for males and females at each responsibility level (Table 2). Results are mixed. Consistent with previous years, female respondents earn a superior wage at Level 1; however, hourly rates reported for females at Level 1 have dropped slightly since 2016. Results also indicate the wage gap may have widened across Levels 2, 3 and 4 in favour of males. However, Level 5 showed a positive shift to reduce the wage gap, with female respondents reporting a significant increase in hourly wage at this level, whilst hourly compensation for males remained unchanged between 2016 and 2017.
Overall, survey data indicates a significant disparity in wages based on gender, with female respondents reporting lower hourly salaries in all levels except entry-level graduate roles (Level 1).
Overall, the response from students indicated that they are more optimistic about their job search prospects post-graduation in 2017. Forty-five per cent of students indicated confidence in securing work upon graduation, up from 34 per cent in 2016, and 29 per cent in 2015. Similar trends exist across the dataset for students. Forty-one per cent responded that they were also looking for work in other industries, and whilst this is still a high number, it has decreased significantly from 64 per cent and 56 per cent in 2015 and 2016 respectively. This confidence may be buoyed by increased access to industry experience; 52 per cent of students indicated they’d gained industry experience compared to 41 per cent and 39 per cent in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
Feature image: I M Pasek/Shutterstock.com.