An insight into the current state of professional employment in the minerals sector
In June 2016, the AusIMM conducted its annual Professional Employment Survey. The survey, which is open to all AusIMM members, received a strong response, with 2472 professionals participating in this year’s survey. The survey uses the AusIMM’s unique position as the leading body for minerals industry professionals in Australasia to gain an insight into the trends and patterns currently affecting professional employment in the mining industry. This year’s survey also included questions on the remuneration received by AusIMM members. These questions on remuneration are asked every second year as part of the AusIMM Professional Employment Survey.
A summary of the 2016 survey results shows:
- The unemployment rate fell to 14.1 per cent among Australia-based AusIMM members, down from 16.2 per cent in 2015.
- 5 per cent of AusIMM members experienced voluntary or forced redundancy in 2016, which was slightly lower than the 16.4 per cent reported in 2015.
- Of those that are unemployed, 42.4 per cent have been unemployed for more than 12 months. This is a significant increase compared to 2015, when 29.6 per cent of respondents had been actively seeking work for more than 12 months.
- Geoscience was the only discipline to experience increased unemployment in 2016, with the unemployment rate rising marginally from 16.5 per cent in 2015 to 17.1 per cent in 2016.
- In 2016, 42.7 per cent of mining professionals experienced pressure to work additional hours or unpaid overtime. This represents a year-on-year increase of 5.7 percentage points compared to 2015.
After rising from just 1.7 per cent in 2012 to a peak of 16.2 per cent in 2015, the unemployment rate among Australia-based AusIMM members fell to 14.1 per cent in 2016 (Figure 1). Among all AusIMM members, the unemployment rate was 13.5 per cent, down from 14.9 per cent in 2015.
While this result represents the first time the unemployment rate has fallen since 2012, unemployment among minerals professionals is still considerably higher than the Australian national unemployment rate of 5.7 per cent.
With the exception of geoscience, the unemployment rate fell across all disciplines in 2016 (Figure 2). Unemployment among geoscientists increased marginally from 16.5 per cent in 2015 to 17.1 per cent in 2016. Despite a slight decrease in the unemployment rate among exploration geologists (from 20.8 per cent in 2015 to 18.7 per cent in 2016), this was not enough to offset the sharp increase in unemployment among mine geologists, which increased from 10.4 per cent in 2015 to 15.6 per cent in 2016. On a more positive note, the unemployment rate among geotechnical engineers fell from 10.5 per cent in 2015 to just 2.5 per cent in this year’s survey.
Unemployment fell across all commodities in 2016, with iron ore professionals experiencing the greatest year-on-year decline of 8.6 percentage points. The highest unemployment was experienced by minerals professionals that work across commodities (16.5 per cent), followed by iron ore (14.6 per cent) and gold miners (13.6 per cent).
Unemployment fell in all Australian regions except Queensland and South Australia and the Northern Territory (Figure 3). In Queensland, unemployment remained steady, while in South Australia and the Northern Territory it increased from 13.5 per cent in 2015 to 15.6 per cent in 2016. The increase in the unemployment rate in South Australia and the Northern Territory means that they now have the highest unemployment rate in Australia, closely followed by Victoria and Tasmania (15.5 per cent) and Western Australia (15.4 per cent).
The unemployment rate among respondents from New Zealand and the rest of the world increased in 2016, with New Zealand reporting a significant increase of 9.5 percentage points to 14.6 per cent in 2016.
Gender and age
As was the case in 2015, the unemployment rate among men was higher than it was for women (Figure 4). However, the gap between the sexes narrowed significantly as a result of a decline in unemployment among men (from 15.4 per cent in 2015 to 13.6 per cent in 2016) and a slight increase among women (from 11.4 per cent in 2015 to 12.9 per cent in 2016).
Unemployment fell in the majority of age groups in 2016, with only the 30-and-under and 71-and-over cohorts experiencing increased unemployment. The most significant fall was in the 31-40 age group, where the unemployment rate declined from 11.5 per cent in 2015 to 6.9 per cent in 2016. At the other end of the spectrum, the most significant increase was in the 71-and-over age group, which reported a five percentage point increase in the unemployment rate.
Redundancy and churn
The number of people made redundant fell slightly in 2016, with 15.5 per cent of respondents stating that they had experienced a redundancy in the previous 12 months compared to 16.4 per cent in 2015. Of those that were made redundant, more than 75 per cent experienced forced redundancies.
The churn rate of minerals professionals continued to be high. In 2016, 19.5 per cent of respondents indicated that they had changed employers in the previous 12 months, which was an increase on the 18.3 per cent reported in the previous survey. Of those that changed employers, 8.3 per cent moved to jobs outside of the minerals industry, with the majority stating that their reason for leaving the industry was a lack of opportunities in the sector. In addition, more than half of the respondents that changed jobs since the previous survey reported that they received a lower salary at their new job compared to their old one.
The proportion of members experiencing long-term unemployment increased alarmingly in 2016, with 42.4 per cent of those unemployed indicating that they had been actively seeking work for more than 12 months (Figure 5). Long-term unemployment disproportionately affected those in the later stages of their careers, with more than two-thirds of those looking for work for more than 12 months over the age of 50.
Unsurprisingly, those experiencing long-term unemployment were more likely to make concessions when looking for a job, such as accepting a lower salary or non-preferred working hours, than those that had been unemployed for a shorter period of time. This included taking a job outside of the minerals sector, with almost 75 per cent of those experiencing long-term unemployment indicating that they would be willing to move to another industry.
When asked to say whether a number of professional indicators (eg working hours, salary and responsibility) had increased, decreased or remained the same, most of the responses were remarkably similar to those given in last year’s survey. As was the case in 2015, decreases in salary and professional development support were most prevalent among respondents, while increases in working hours and responsibility were the most common responses at the other end of the scale. The proportion of those that felt pressure or an expectation to work unpaid overtime or extra hours increased in this year’s survey, rising from 37.0 per cent in 2015 to 42.7 per cent in 2016.
Following on from the trends seen in previous years, one-third of ‘fly in, fly out’ (FIFO) workers reported that the quality and variety of food provided on-site had decreased, while close to a quarter reported that they received less support for their commute to and from site. Less than ten per cent of FIFO workers reported improvements in conditions across all the surveyed categories.
Personal and industry outlooks
In stark contrast to the previous three years, this year’s survey respondents were far more positive about the future trajectory of both their personal situation and the industry as a whole. In terms of their personal career expectations over the next 12 months, 32.2 per cent of members believed that they would have increased opportunities, which was notably higher than the 25.9 per cent in 2015. In keeping with the same theme, the proportion of respondents expecting their opportunities to decrease fell significantly from 40 per cent in 2015 to 29.9 per cent in 2016 (Figure 6).
These results were mirrored in respondents’ expectations of the mining industry as a whole over the next 12 months, with the number of those expecting increased opportunity rising by 12 percentage points year-on-year and the proportion expecting less opportunity falling from 53 per cent in 2015 to 33.9 per cent in 2016 (Figure 7). However, while there was a far more positive outlook about the mining industry among AusIMM members, it is worth noting that over a third of respondents still believe that there will be no change in personal opportunity or within the wider mining industry. With the industry continuing to struggle in the face of low commodity prices, the view from a significant proportion of respondents that the current difficult situation will continue somewhat tempers the increased positivity of other members.
Students and new professionals
In 2016, students were slightly more confident in their ability to find a job after they graduate, with 34.1 per cent of students stating that they believe they will be able to gain employment after graduation. Significantly, the level of pessimism among students about future job prospects declined sharply, falling from 33.7 per cent in 2015 to 17.6 per cent in 2016. The number of students looking for work in other industries fell from 63.8 per cent in 2015 to 56.1 per cent in 2016. Within this figure, the number of women looking for jobs outside the sector increased by 10.4 percentage points, while the number of men seeking employment outside the industry declined by 16.3 percentage points to 55.6 per cent.
The number of students that have obtained industry experience before looking for work remained steady at around 40 per cent in 2016. While the proportion of students who wanted to gain industry experience but hadn’t been able to find a suitable arrangement fell by approximately ten percentage points, this was offset by a similar increase in the number of students who had not sought out industry experience. The lesser desire to gain minerals industry experience was also reflected in falling interest in internships and work placements. Of the students that finished their studies in the past year, 28.9 per cent were either unemployed or employed outside of the minerals industry.
Questions on the remuneration received by AusIMM members were included in this year’s Professional Employment Survey in keeping with the practice of asking these questions every two years.
Levels of responsibility
As was the case in previous surveys, more than two-thirds of respondents in 2016 indicated that they worked at career levels 4 or 5 (see Table 1 for a definition of each of the five career levels). However, the number of those working at Level 5 declined by approximately four percentage points, while the number working at Level 4 increased by the same amount. While this change is relatively small and may be due to natural variation, it could also indicate a reduction in responsibility for a proportion of those working at Level 5. In the employment section of the survey, eight per cent of respondents indicated that their level of responsibility had fallen in 2016.
As shown in Figure 8, gross average salaries increase fairly linearly as responsibility grows. Proportionally speaking, the biggest jump was between Levels 1 and 2 in 2016, with those working in Level 2 positions earning 34.2 per cent more than those working at Level 1. However, in real dollar terms, this was the smallest increase between levels at a difference of $27 085. Unsurprisingly, the biggest jump in real dollar terms was between those working at Levels 4 and 5. While those working in Level 5 positions earned 27.6 per cent more than those at Level 4, this equated to an extra $46 357 per annum.
An extended breakdown of the survey findings is available to download here (PDF).