The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) has raised the issue of a skills shortage in the mining industry to its federal government with a submission to a Senate inquiry into the future of the Australian workplace. In the submission, the MCA warns that enrolments in mining-focused programs had fallen to the lowest levels since 2000, and under-pressure universities may have to close specialist units if action is not taken.
Enrolments in mining-focused courses — including geology and mine engineering — tend to lag the commodity cycle by about four years.
MCA points out that students drifted from the disciplines when the big miners neared the end of their massive infrastructure building programs in 2012-2013 and cut jobs in the move to steady-state production.
That trend was exacerbated by falling commodity prices and headlines dominated by job losses in the industry.
“The number of students commencing mining programs across Australia in 2017 show enrolments continue a drastic downward trend to levels below those last seen in 2000,” the submission says.
“There is a genuine threat of program closure because of critically low enrolment levels in programs, which are also ... high cost to universities to run.”
Perth Now reported that despite overall lower employment across the industry, the trend is likely to lead to critical shortages in technical disciplines by the end of the decade, mirroring the widespread skill shortages that drove up costs and held back construction of new mines in the boom years.
“For mining engineering the moving average trend for university completions from 2017 to 2020 is expected to decline by 81 per cent,” the submission says.
“In the same period, labor demand is expected to decline by only 13 percent.”
The MCA says that to ensure high-quality courses were available, the government needed to provide baseline funding for mining schools through the down period, as well as help promote the disciplines to school leavers.
“Safeguards should include stronger accountability mechanisms to ensure increased university fee revenue is devoted to teaching and student services,” it says.
This issue is not unique to Australia. In the United States, SME has worked to address this issue on a number of fronts, including its Ph.D. Fellowship program.