It can be hot, dirty and spartan, but the rewards in mining are worth the toil.
Half the country's 10 top-paying professions are in mining and related
industries, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Depending on experience and qualifications, wages range from $40,000 to
$260,000-plus, according to Miningcareers.com. It's good money.
The money in mining has to be good because the male-dominated outback
trade lives up to its rough image, says the mining consultant Jack
Caldwell, whose grandfather died in a rockburst.
Caldwell acknowledges that, instead of burrowing through rock, open-pit
workers perch in cooled or heated cabins, manipulating impressive
machinery. But you can only automate so much, he says.
"Sadly, the image of a grubby, hard-hat miner crawling through a tunnel is still true," he adds.
At heart, mining apparently means dangerous underground toil. Think
drilling, blasting, "mucking" and shunting ore-laden rock, for long
hours, in step with vast demand.
Fuelled by resource-hungry China, the industry built on minerals
including gold, gas and iron ore is booming. Cue an avalanche of
opportunity. People with recent and relevant mining experience are in
demand, according to Miningcareers.com, which states that
TAFE-accredited certificates - level III or higher - in relevant areas
Vacancies exist for geologists, environment technicians, blast
engineers, laboratory analysts and "reliability assurance managers",
among other specialists.
Australia has too few skilled workers to fill all the gaps. So mining
firms have been forced to offer pay rises of more than 5 per cent and
better hours to retain skilled workers.
Unskilled workers are also welcome and poised to prosper, the Prime
Minister, Julia Gillard, says. In a February speech to business leaders
in Melbourne, Gillard said mining's high wages promised labourers the
chance to get rich quick, like "a magnet dragging iron filings towards
The boom, touted as unrivalled since the 19th-century gold rush, centres
on Western Australia's $43 billion Gorgon liquefied natural gas project
(see gorgonjobs.kjv.com.au), giant coal-seam gas developments in
central Queensland's Gladstone and the BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto
iron-ore expansions in the Pilbara - the sparsely populated corner of
Western Australia known for its vast mineral deposits.
In addition, there's the predicted $30 billion expansion of BHP
Billiton's uranium and copper mine at South Australia's Olympic Dam,
which one analyst, David Upton, predicts will become the world's largest
mine. Then there are seams of uranium, copper, zinc and even that hard,
heavy element deployed in electronics, tantalum.
The demand for shiny metals of all kinds looks solid.
"There's no advice to me that would cause me concern about Chinese
demand collapsing," Gillard told Bloomberg on September 15, also
describing the resources sector as "turbocharged".
If you want to be part of the boom, the freelance mining engineer and
risk management expert Jamie Ross has some advice. First, learn what
working in the industry feels like by scouring the internet and viewing
video sharing site-mining footage.
Clarify why you want to work in the industry, besides money. Sell
yourself as an all-rounder with a strong work ethic, a co-operative
outlook, the ability to learn new skills fast and a keen grasp of the
importance of work safety.
Also ooze enthusiasm and persevere. Despite the skills shortage, stiff competition for entry-level "clean-skin" jobs exists.
Should you be thwarted, look for roles that can be stepping stones to
jobs with proper mining operations. Jobs at mining camps and with mine
suppliers and mining contractors make excellent entry pathways - if you
are serious about mining.
All that glitters
You might prefer a financial services job - ranked 10th on the payment
scale by the Australian Bureau of Statistics - given the pressure that
Echoing Caldwell, Ross describes the work as "dirty, hot and hard".
What's more, Ross says, you are far from big-city life and the sea's
soothing influence. So mining is only a dream job for workers
comfortable with spartan conditions and isolation.
And explosives are critical to extracting the riches buried in the wide, brown land.
■Mining occupies a key place in the nation's economy. Although it is one
of the smaller sectors, it is the most important exporter, according to
the market researchers IBISWorld.
■Mining is expected to generate about $208.9 billion in 2011-12, up from
$138.8 billion in 2006-07, yielding average annual growth of 8.5 per
cent. Revenue is expected to grow by 12 per cent in 2011-12, after
expanding 20 per cent in the previous year as the sector rebounded from
the global financial crisis.
■The mining sector is expected to generate about 8.2 per cent of
Australia's gross domestic product in 2011-12. The sector's 2500
companies employ about 130,000 people, paying about $16,780 million in
wages in 2011-12.