Author: Cara Jenkin
Think mining jobs and most people will imagine a man covered in black coal dust while wearing a hard hat.
A job in the mining industry today could not be further from that image – especially as coal is not even one of Australia’s top three mined products.
In the future, the stereotype of a mining worker will change even further, and already some mining workers are not even based on the mine site, thanks to advances such as autonomous machinery.
Just as mining was at the heart of the industrial revolution, so it will be at the heart of the renewable energy and digital revolutions this century.
Demand for all major metals, except lead, is expected to continuously increase this century, with the largest growth rate for aluminum (470 per cent), followed by copper (330 per cent), zinc (130 per cent), and iron (100 per cent).
Copper, for example, is mostly used for electrical wiring, and with so many products from mobile phone chargers to airconditioners running on electricity, it is no wonder it will be in high demand.
Then there are products such as silica, which is used to make solar panels, and lithium, which is used to make batteries, and are increasingly being mined in Australia.
Beyond minerals, other resources such as oil and gas are as important for daily life today as they were 100 years ago, and Australia has many of these reserves, too.
To access these products, the mining sector needs workers, and the National Skills Commission forecasts 15,900 new jobs will be created in the five years to 2026, to take the total workforce past 287,000 people.
However, some industry reports reveal the number of new workers required could be much higher – possibly 20,000 a year – as workers also are needed to replace those that leave the industry.
Some mining projects will not even get off the ground until there are workers available to work at it, ensuring a long lifetime of work for those who are qualified.
One stereotype about mining jobs is accurate, though – they are well-paid jobs.
The average full-time earnings in 2021 was $144,000 a year, compared to $94,000 a year across all industries.
THE WORKERS IN DEMAND
Whether it is exploring for mineral deposits, developing a mine, or operating the mine, workers are in demand at every stage.
A mine also can operate for up to 70 years, providing long-term career opportunities.
Drillers, miners and shot firers are the obvious mining workers required – and they all need to hold a vocational education and training qualification, such as a Certificate IV in Surface Coal Mining or a Certificate IV in Drilling Operations that are completed doing an apprenticeship.
Then there are mining engineers, surveyors and geologists, and while some of these roles may require a university degree, all can be started through a VET course.
However, diesel mechanics, welders, boilermakers and auto electricians – that also are all in high demand right now in the mining industry – require an apprenticeship to be completed to get qualified.
In fact, 43 per cent of the mining workforce has a vocational education and training qualification, compared to just 25 per cent that has a bachelor degree.
THE NEW BREED OF WORKER
As mine sites are typically located in remote areas, most roles now are fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) or drive-in, drive-out (DIDO), in which workers who live hundreds of kilometres away travel to stay on-site while they work, for several days or perhaps weeks at a time.
However, a new breed of worker is emerging who is not located on a mine site.
Automation is increasing in the industry – think self-driving trains, trucks and excavation equipment – meaning workers do not need to be on site to operate the machinery.
It means people can commute daily to their job, and may even work on different mine sites within a single day, switching on to a different piece of machinery from their base at a remote operations centre.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
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