AusIMM’s annual summary report into the current state of professional employment and remuneration in the resources sector suggests a marked upturn in employment and improved sector confidence
AusIMM is the peak body representing professionals in the global resources sector. We deliver an ongoing program of professional development services to ensure our 13 000 members are supported throughout their careers, enabling them to provide high-quality professional input to industry and the community.
Each year, AusIMM conducts a survey on the employment and remuneration of resources professionals, providing an insight into the current state of the employment market and the experience of professionals working in the sector.
In September and October 2018, AusIMM invited all members to complete the survey. In addition to collating employment and remuneration data among resources professionals, the 2018 survey included questions relating to volunteering, diversity and inclusion, and professional development.
It is important to have a representative sample from our membership to analyse and understand key issues for our members. In 2017 we received 1955 responses and in 2018 we received 1593 responses. These responses, while fewer than last year, were distributed across all major AusIMM membership demographics, providing a broadly representative sample of resources professionals.
This report contains the high-level findings of the survey analysis, which overall points to a strong upturn in employment. The industry has generally improved its activity levels and ‘employment health’ over the past two years, with increasing employment levels across a range of occupations and levels.
The exception is salaries, which in most categories have not increased significantly, as is the case in the wider Australian economy. It is generally expected that once unemployment numbers decrease (and they already have) that salaries will start to move upwards as they follow the higher demand for professionals. However, this has barely happened in the past two years.
This year’s summary report also shows a picture of increased optimism about future opportunities.
Industry employment stabilises
Figure 1 shows the very significant improvement in unemployment statistics over the past two years, which many commentators would see as a return to essentially full employment. This is in stark contrast to the high levels of 14.1 per cent unemployment overall in our 2016 survey. Interestingly, during the difficult industry downturn, survey data reported male unemployment as higher than for females, but from the 2018 survey results any gender differences in unemployment are much narrower. Interpretation of this data should consider the various definitions of unemployment used subjectively by respondents. These included forced versus voluntary unemployment and temporary versus long-term unemployment.
Redundancies were high in 2016, and then reduced significantly in both 2017 and 2018. The higher level in 2016 was likely due to downsizing and closures of operations and support services. The rate of 5.0 per cent of respondents experiencing redundancy in 2018 is in line with the much higher overall employment and improved industry outlook.
Unemployment rates in Australia’s resources sector spiked in 2015, and were nearly triple the national unemployment average in 2015 and 2016 before moving towards parity in 2017. These unemployment rates have reduced in 2018 to be well below the national average, even at a time where overall unemployment in Australia is relatively low. The cyclic nature of our sector relative to the rest of the economy is well illustrated by these numbers (Figure 2).
By professional discipline (Figure 3), it is interesting to note that geotechnical engineers ‘got back to work’ in 2016, with geoscience members doing so slightly later, and mining engineers really getting back to low unemployment rates this year. Metallurgists, materials and chemical engineers have only more recently reached essentially full employment, which likely reflects the fact their roles are generally process-focused as opposed to focused on mine establishment.
Figure 4 shows that Australian unemployment levels were more volatile than in other regions. The high was much higher in 2016, and the current low is much lower than in other regions.
The trend of falling unemployment was broadly similar in all Australian states (Figure 5), reflecting the cyclic economic factors being more of a national phenomenon than a regional one. However, unemployment remains highest in South Australia and the Northern Territory, and Tasmania and Victoria. This might be expected when compared to the larger mining states of WA, NSW and Queensland, which each have more projects and therefore prospects for employment. However, it should be noted that this data does not accommodate professionals who may have moved interstate for employment.
The number of professionals out of work for more than 12 months peaked in 2017 and has halved from that peak in 2018 (Figure 6). The general trend towards employment growth seen in 2018 would be expected to bring this measure down even further in 2019, as it contains a 12-month lag effect.
Respondents’ overall expectations for opportunities changed significantly from 2016 to 2017, with a big shift towards optimism and increased opportunities (Figure 7).
The sustained industry health in 2018 has moved these expectations even further in the positive direction, with only four per cent of respondents signalling a view of decreased opportunities, which is very different from 2015 when that number was at 53 per cent. There is strong optimism for the future industry outlook.
In line with general optimism toward future opportunity, overall the response from students indicated that they are more optimistic about their job search prospects post-graduation in 2018. Sixty-eight per cent of students expressed confidence in growth in job opportunities in the resources sector, as compared from 45 per cent in 2017, 34 per cent in 2016, and 29 per cent in 2015. The 2018 figure indicates confidence in securing work upon graduation.
The experience levels outlined in Table 1 were adjusted for the 2018 survey to provide a clearer reflection of experience levels across the industry. With the change in definitions, the data collected for each level of experience is not directly comparable to previous years; however, the averages across each level show that there has not been a significant change in overall remuneration compared to 2017. Average gross salary (AUD) for Level 1 roles in 2018 was $78 207, Level 2 was $109 813, Level 3 was $140 044, Level 4 was $198 722 and Level 5 was $102 386.
The general picture of salaries is one of essentially small or no raises in remuneration even though there has been a significant downward trend in unemployment. With the low current levels of unemployment returning in 2018, labour market pressures may well herald an upturn in salaries in 2019 and beyond if the demand for various levels of professionals exceeds the supply.
Salary data by gender
In addition to providing annual salary, respondents were 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).
The hourly payment rates by gender show that in general, men attract higher rates than women when calculated in real dollars per reported hour for at least two of the three experience levels surveyed. The salary gap between male and female respondents was fairly consistent between 2014 and 2017, with wage gaps of between men and women ranging from $6 to $9 per hour, particularly at more senior levels. Data from the 2018 survey shows a change in hourly-equivalent wages for men and women, with women’s salaries reported as being higher than men at Levels 2 and 3. At graduate level and high leadership level, males attract a higher hourly rate according to 2018 data.
One explanation could be that the trends towards working to achieve more women in certain roles in this sector has driven demand, and thus increased female salaries at specific levels. In 2017, female participants reported earning a greater hourly rate than males at the graduate level of employment. The disparity at a junior level this year in comparison to 2017, suggests that gender equality may be an increasing issue in this sector for graduates. Further analysis of salary differences based on gender would be useful, especially in light of recent reports of a reduced gender pay gap in the resources sector (for example, see the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s gender equality scorecard from November 2018).
More work to be done on industry diversity and inclusion
AusIMM is committed to ensuring the equality of opportunity for all members of the resources sector regardless of race, ethnicity, heritage, gender, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. For the first time, this year’s survey captured respondent’s perception of diversity and inclusion in the sector and in workplaces.
Males had a higher perception of the extent of diversity in the resources industry than females (Figure 8). Over half of females surveyed expressed the view that the industry was not very diverse compared to 32 per cent of male respondents. Interestingly, there was a disconnect between perceptions of the industry as a whole and perceptions of diversity within respondents’ own workplaces. Higher percentages of both males and females had a positive view of the extent of diversity in their own organisation, rather than in the industry at large (Figure 9). The cause of this discrepancy in perceptions of the whole industry compared to individual workplaces warrants further investigation.
Similar questions were also asked about the perceptions of inclusivity in the industry and at respondent organisation/workplace level. Although most members of AusIMM reported that the resource industry and their workplace are inclusive, there were differences in perception of inclusivity between male and female members. In parallel to the diversity trend, the women felt their industry and workplace environments to be less inclusive than men did.
Respondents were asked to nominate the professional development or learning topics that are a priority for their career development (Figure 10). Most popular topics contained a mix of more technical topics, such as technical descriptions of orebodies and project level education, and management topics such as leadership and finance. Safety and innovation were also of significant interest. These technical topics are the traditional core business of AusIMM and the high interest in technological development and the future of the sector show where respondents would like AusIMM to focus its energy. The results of this survey also show the broad spectrum of interests represented by AusIMM members.
Member preferences for mode of delivery of professional development showed a strong preference for conferences and for reading material online, with lower interest in video and podcast material for educational purposes. One explanation for this could be the traditionally reduced ability for members to access online methods of professional development from AusIMM, an area that the Institute is investing significant effort and funding to help improve.
The information collated in the AusIMM Professional Workforce Survey is of great value to AusIMM. While this summary report provides an overall snapshot of the data received, and focuses particularly on the high level topics of employment, remuneration and diversity and inclusion, over the coming months AusIMM will be using the data to increase the longevity of the survey responses and help shape strategic priorities going forward. For example, more information on data surrounding remuneration by gender will be gathered in 2019, with a survey planned for circulation in the new year.