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Overcome 'dirty' stigma as part of addressing skills shortage

THERE are “pockets of brilliance” but Western Australia’s mining sector needs to takes more steps including overcoming the stigma of being a dirty industry to address the evolving skills shortage, industry members were told.
Overcome 'dirty' stigma as part of addressing skills shortage Overcome 'dirty' stigma as part of addressing skills shortage Overcome 'dirty' stigma as part of addressing skills shortage Overcome 'dirty' stigma as part of addressing skills shortage Overcome 'dirty' stigma as part of addressing skills shortage

Moderator Tamryn Barker, Roy Hill’s Chris Eriksen, Newcrest’s Courtney Christensen, Curtin’s Sabina Shugg and MaxMine’s Kim Earle discuss skill requirements

Ngaire McDiarmid


The sector could need as many as 40,000 extra workers by mid-2023, according to a recent report commissioned by the Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA.

High commodity prices have prompted investment, with an estimated $140 billion worth of projects in the state's pipeline, while COVID-19 border restrictions have limited the available talent pool.

Newcrest Mining geotechnical engineer Courtney Christensen said she "fell into mining", as had many other young professionals she spoke with.

"We still do have a very dirty old school stigma that is associated with mining," she said during a panel discussion at a WA Mining Club lunch on Thursday.

"All these other disciplines [such as HR] are not exposed to it and us as an industry need to do better in this space… like target schools from an early age."

Sabina Shugg, who is the director of Curtin University's Kalgoorlie campus and founder of Women in Mining and Resources WA, called for more industry support for educational camps which inspired students to enter the industry.

"There are so many CEOs and leaders and people that work in the office from across all of everyone's organisations …who went to one of those camps," she said.

Shugg said it was also important for leaders to embrace diversity and not employ someone who looked like them in the mirror.

"We need to be doing that to make sure that people see that the industry is more than just dirty and it's more than just men… because you can't be what you can't see," she said.

Collaboration, adaptability, having a supportive culture, training people to have a problem-solving mindset and demystifying fly-in, fly-out work were among other suggestions to ensure the right skillset for a modern mining workforce.

However MaxMine co-founder Kim Eales said he was wary of people saying they wanted to "embrace a start-up culture".

"So you're going to get everyone to sell their houses, not pay anyone for the first couple of years and outcomes are based on performing well - I've been there and done that," he said.

He said there were "pockets of brilliance" in terms of the industry being future-facing, adding the skillset for the future was having leaders who enabled the team to deliver an outcome.

Roy Hill general manager technology and innovation Chris Eriksen said having an open mindset was important, as was a focus on culture and making the mine a great place to work.

Roy Hill was in the process of automating and Eriksen said the company began a conversation about the future with its plus-300 truck drivers two years ago.

"We've transitioned 119 of those truck drivers already and we've automated eight trucks so far," she said.

"They've gone to roles such as services or apprenticeships and that gives them pathways to other careers."

Moderator Tamryn Barker, co-founder and skills lead of CORE Innovation Hub, said she saw curating the right skillset becoming as important as safety to the industry.

The issue was also addressed at a skills summit held in Perth on Friday, where the state government was expected to devise additional initiatives to address WA's skills needs.