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Australia – Mining slowdown biting graduates hard

11 September 2013

There is no longer a guarantee that engineering students will have jobs waiting for them when they graduate in Western Australia. Companies are trimming or cutting graduate programs in the wake of the mining downturn, as they cut costs and staff, according to the Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Experienced engineers are either facing redundancy or being asked to reduce their hours so companies can adjust to decreasing supply of work.

Megan Motto a company’s representative for Consult Australia said companies do not require as many graduates in the current climate. “It’s not as easy for graduates as it was a few years ago when four, five, six, even eight companies were all vying for one graduate.”

Queensland university lecturer Doug Hargreaves agrees and has been witnessing it with his students. “There is a slowing down or a flattening I guess for the numbers of students who are able to get jobs, certainly in vacation experience at this stage. I predict very much so that by the end of this year there will be quite a lot of students who have graduated in engineering degrees who will have difficulty getting jobs.”

Miss Motto said the engineering industry is used to the cyclical character of the mining boom but said this particular boom has delivered unprecedented growth with significant effects. “The sustained economic growth of the country of 22 years, and of course the mining boom simultaneously over that period, has marked some of that cycle and it’s become an expectation now for graduates in the engineering market that they will always have plentiful work.”

A lecturer at Curtin University’s school of engineering in Perth Professor Tony Lucey relocated to Australia from the United Kingdom more than 10 years ago. According to him the job market in engineering during the mining boom was an unusual situation not matched in other countries around the world.

Nowhere else in the world would engineering graduates with minimal or no experience be able to attain jobs immediately, as much as they have in Western Australia, he said. “In Western Australia, the demand for engineers from the resources sector has dominated the employment of graduate engineers and that’s an unusual situation.”

“It’s not the same for engineers around the world. I come from the UK; [and] it was always my expectation when I taught in the UK that students would have to spend a six month period writing a lot of applications to gain employment.”

Mr Hargreaves is optimistic the mining sector will see a turnaround. He believes new infrastructure ventures under the new Coalition government will mean engineers will be needed again. “I do believe this will be short lived, the economy has been flat over the past year or so, coming down from a boom if you like, [and] as a result there has been no investment in new projects, [either] large one [or] small ones.”

“With more people, we need more infrastructure, we need more transport systems, we need more telecommunications, we need water, we need power, we need all of those things and engineers are involved in delivering all of those services,” Hargreaves added.

Tom Lucey sees this time as an opportunity for engineering students to broaden their engineering career paths. “There is a clear need for engineers in any developed, modern society. In the future,it may not be so lop-sided and so dependent on the resources.”

“[So engineering graduates], rather than seeing themselves as automatically destined for the resources industry in Western Australia, may actually see themselves as innovators, creators, developers, founders of small to medium sized enterprises. That will be the new form of intellectual engineering needed to take Western Australia’s economy to the next step,” he added.

Graduates have found it difficult to find work in the mining industry, as staff turnover in mining companies slumped nearly -5% to 14.8% per annum earlier this year. The slump is due to job cuts, cost cuts and abandoned projects.

One labourer placed an online advertisement offering AUD 5,000 and his 1994 AUD 1,500 Ford Falcon for an entry-level mining job. Australian Mining recently reported on how training local talent, sponsoring university programs and cross training existing workers are ways to recruit talent into the industry and address the skills shortage issue.

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