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Wealth of opportunity

By David Wilson
Sydney Morning Herald
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 It's good money.

Rough trade

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.

Hot economy

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, which states that TAFE-accredited certificates - level III or higher - in relevant areas also count.
Vacancies exist for geologists, environment technicians, blast engineers, laboratory analysts and "reliability assurance managers", among other specialists.

Skills shortage

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 it".

Hot spots

The boom, touted as unrivalled since the 19th-century gold rush, centres on Western Australia's $43 billion Gorgon liquefied natural gas project (see, 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".

Inside track

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 mining involves.

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.

Big numbers

■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.

Published: 05 November 2011

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