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Skilled employment positions starting to blow out
Old 25th March 2010, 06:45 PM   #1
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Default Skilled employment positions starting to blow out

THE number of employment positions for skilled workers in the mining industry is once again starting to blow out in proportion to the candidates available to fill them.

In recent times the mining industry has relied on workers from overseas, entering the country on a Subclass 457 Business (Long Stay) Visa to fill the shortfall of skilled labour.

Anyone working in Australia who is not an Australian citizen or permanent resident must have a visa to do so.

Besides the 457 visa there are other avenues available for employers to access potential employees.

One such alternative is the 476 Skilled Graduate work visa, used by employers looking to recruit engineering graduates from overseas.

A 476 visa allows graduate engineers, from specified universities, who have graduated less than two years prior to applying to work in Australia without restriction.

The 476 is granted for a stay of 18 months and employers are able to recruit holders without enduring any sponsorship approval process.

However, it is the 457 visa that is the most commonly used by employers, particularly those in the mining industry, when employing workers from overseas.

Obtaining a 457 visa is a process of three stages. The first stage involves the Australian employer being approved as a sponsor.

To gain that status an employer must have a sound financial record of operations, be lawfully operating in Australia, meet training benchmarks in respect of training their Australian employees, and have a good record with Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

Approved sponsors are required to comply with a raft of obligations. Failure to meet these can result in consequences ranging from warning notices, financial penalties to being barred from future sponsorships or even having the sponsorship cancelled.

These last two can have long-lasting ramifications, especially for projects that rely heavily on overseas labour.

The second stage is nomination, which looks at the position to be filled.

The position must be full-time and must tally with an occupation on a list of skilled occupations that covers most managerial, professional, para-professional and trades occupations.

To ensure parity with Australian working conditions and the Fair Work Act, the new employee must be paid the “market rate”. That is the same as an equivalent Australian employee.

The final stage is the visa stage where the proposed employee is assessed to determine they have the skills and qualifications to fill the position as well as an appropriate level of English language ability.

457 visa holders have a condition placed on their visa that means they can only work for the employer that most recently sponsored them in the position for which their visa was approved.

They cannot work for themselves and they cannot change employer or change their job without first obtaining approval from Immigration. Any accompanying family members have no work restrictions and can work for any employer in any job.

Behind the health care, social assistance and the construction sectors, mining is one of the major participants in the 457 visa scheme.

Oddly enough, however, in recent years the number of applications for 457 visas both applied for and granted to the mining sector has dropped.

According to Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) data for 2007-08, there were 4760 applications lodged for 457 visas for workers in the mining sector.

The same data says 4890 applications were granted in the same year.

The numbers might not add up but the more interesting figure to take note of is the subsequent 2008-09 financial year, when 4330 applications were lodged and 4300 granted.

The fact there were 590 less 457 visas granted for the 2008-09 financial year probably speaks volumes about the state the world was in at the time.

What is worrying about the drop off, however, is a trend has developed that both industry and government must take a long, serious look at.

From June to November 2008, around 2600 457 visa applications were lodged with 2490 granted.

For the corresponding period in 2009, just 940 applications were lodged, of which 930 were successful.

Not surprisingly the numbers state by state stack up heavily in favour of the larger mining states of Western Australia and Queensland, but even these tell a worrying tale.

In 2007-08 WA and Queensland had 3100 and 840 applications granted respectively.

Queensland had a small rise in numbers in 2008-09 gaining a further 850 workers, but only 2770 workers on 457s crossed WA’s borders.

The comparative figures for the June to November period 2008 and 2009 paint a much more concerning figure. Queensland dropped from 500 to 180 and WA from 1640 to 590 approvals.

“There was a decline in visa application rates in September and October 2009 compared with previous months due in part to the introduction of the Migration Legislation Amendment (Worker Protection) Act 2008 on September 14, 2009, and the new requirements,” DIAC said in its state/territory summary report for the 2009-10 financial year to November 30.

“However, on a week-by-week basis, application rates have been steadily increasing throughout October and November 2009 as employers become familiar with the new requirements.

“Year to date, the total number of primary Subclass 457 visa applications lodged is 49 per cent lower than the same period last program year.

“While the application rates declined following the impact of the global financial crisis in September 2008, the major falls occurred after December 2008.”

It may be simple enough to blame the GFC for all the current employment woes the industry is facing. Yet these employment deficiency issues were at the forefront during the boom and it appears as though they are set to return to haunt everybody again.

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche identified the issue the state’s resource companies faced was their ability to attract and retain skilled employees.

“The resources sector has an ageing workforce profile,” he said

“Labour demand projections suggest that occupational categories for which demand is expected to grow most rapidly are those for which total economy-wide employment supply is projected to grow most slowly.”

Roche pointed to recent studies into the labour requirements for the Queensland oil and gas and minerals sectors that showed significant opportunities existed along with challenges of the same order.

“Demand for additional operational workers in the Queensland coal, bauxite, copper, lead, zinc and gold sectors could exceed 23,000 by 2020,” he said.
“Part of the employment solution is ensuring we have appealing resource communities in which to live and raise families.”

Recruiting specialists Hay Resources & Mining acknowledged the situation to be similar across all states.

Coal mining engineers and coal mine production geologists head the company’s most sought-after worker list for the Sunshine State.

For WA, the roster is more comprehensive with candidates in exploration and production, geology, mining engineering and production operations and maintenance all in strong demand.

In South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, the growing inventory of skills in demand remains constant.

Hays Resources & Mining regional director Simon Winfield said the growing demand was the result of several factors.

“Firstly, there are many instances of employers opting to recruit now in an attempt to gain competitive advantage and secure the best of the available talent,” Winfield said.

“Secondly, many organisations that cut staffing numbers to the bone are going to look for new recruits to be in place pretty quickly in 2010 in order to cope with a ‘back to normal’ workload.

Departing staff in 2009 were rarely replaced, with their duties absorbed by remaining staff members.

“Now that confidence and commodity prices are rising, employers are reassessing and re-creating vacancies where required. They are repopulating teams.

“Thirdly, candidates already in permanent roles are re-entering the job market. This momentum will also generate opportunities as positions become vacant, further fuelling the jobs market.”


Bottom line, where are all the skilled people going to come from taking into account the recent brakes placed on the skilled migration programme? And this does not just refer to mining and construction skills. As projects come on stream, an incredible array of skills is needed from financial, admin, technical, IT, engineering, OHS, medical, environmental etc. the list goes on!

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