Well that just made things interesting for the Hardrock mining industry!

Sometimes the world just has one of those moments where everyone is suddenly on the same page, “you need nickel to make batteries” is one of those moments. With a number of nickel mines around Australia on care and maintenance, ready to be reopened once the price recovers. The 5% jump in price, represents just such a moment. At well over $16,000 a ton in Australian dollars, these large mines used to (can again) produce over 10,000 tons a year. With production costs of between $6000 to $9000 per ton depending on how lean they run their professional departments, these mines could once again see a yearly profit around the $100 million mark.

During the last nickel boom 2006-07, when it was above $40,000US a ton, some of the mines were making $100million a quarter in profit, this allowed big bonuses to be paid, to get experienced miners from gold mines, where the margins were much tighter at the time. I remember being told at the pub one day, that one mine just outside Kalgoorlie made $100milion AU in the month of December 2006. This was later confirmed by a friend working at the mine, who received an extra bonus (on top of his already very, very high wage) of $7000 in his bank account. A thank you letter was read out from the Russian owner a couple of days in the morning meeting outlining how the company made the record profit for the month.

This new activity will push the market for experienced underground workers back to boom conditions. From the ads on seek you can see the poaching has already started, more money, shorter swings (the term used for the time a person spends on a mine site) away, share bonuses and signing bonuses will all be rolled out again. As the production of nickel requires the hardrock method and China has made gold portable money again, for both governments and big companies alike. The demand for experienced workers is only going to get worse, as new gold mines open, older ones expand and the nickel mines reopen. All companies now have no choice but to hire new starters again.

However, the same problem keeps rearing its ugly head.  Two years into a solid Gold recovery mining companies are already experiencing problems with new starters. That’s why these Job ads keep being posted, it’s not because the companies haven’t hired people. They have hired lots of people, it just hasn’t worked out for many. The problem is, hardrock underground mining is one of those industries where a great number of people, having started work, decide that mining is not for them. I had a guy try to climb out the window of the shift boss ute once. Just driving down the pit ramp. You couldn’t even see the start of the underground, which is another place people freak out. He just kept saying no, no, no, no, no, it was like a really bad episode of the Victor of Dibley. I had to pull him back in before I could turn around and take him to the medic.

If a new starter goes in Green (no mining knowledge at all) then they have a 3 in 5 chance of failing in the first 6 months. The big companies all know they have a problem (lots of in house studies done over the years) and to their credit, they all have had a go at trying to fix it. However, nothing that they do has made a difference. They tried extending the training, out to months instead of just 3-5 days which is the norm, hoping it would fix the problem. It was a large owner operator company extended the training time and it made things worse on a number of sites. A lot of companies have gone back to the 3-5day induction to get people on the job training as soon as possible. Most companies have decided that this high turnover is just part of mining and you have to go through a lot of people to find a few good ones.

I don’t agree with that and it’s because of this reason the training course I recommend were written. To get people through the first 6 months of their mining career. What do I mean? The induction isn’t going to tell you that the Shift boss and Foreman might cut the jumbo operator some slack with safety glass if he’s in a cab (behind what is in effect bullet proof glass), but the engineer’s will write you up in a heart beat, if they think you haven’t been wearing yours (find you wearing foggy glasses). The induction doesn’t teach you about the carton system, the rules within the crew that can make or break your career depending on how you follow them.

The inductions people do when they first start are safety focussed (and I have no problem with that), often pointing out what can go wrong, with more instructions being given on the job. Which leads to the next stage of the problem, you are only as good as the person that is showing you how to do the job. If you’re the 6th person needed to be trained in the last 6 months, then you often find that the person doing the training is no longer invested in passing on all (what I mean by this is the different ways jobs can be done) the information. It’s hard when someone you have invested a lot of time in, is tramped (sacked) for making a silly mistake in their probation period (first six month). I’m not says that this attitude is acceptable, but it is what happens and a big reason why we as a group of WA ticketed shift bosses wrote the course for new starters.

The idea was to teach a new starter everything we as shift bosses want them to know, before starting work on one of our crews. We used to joke that the students that did the training were now “lavender green” instead of green, meaning they understand the theory but have yet to get practical experience. It worked, between 2010-2013 when the industry last needed new starters hundreds of people got jobs with only a hand full failing in the first 6 months.

It’s all back on again with hundreds if not thousands of new workers needed in these large hardrock underground mines all around the country. If you are interested in a career change now’s the time, if you can talk to the foreman about how the mine works, the jobs you are going to be doing like, watering down, throwing bolts and scaling then you have something to offer and they hire. Get the information wrong then they don’t, simple as that. You can have a look at the two packages I offer, “Workready” and “Do it yourself”. Both offer a pathway into the industry depending on the level of support you think you need.

Until next time, I hope everyone finds the job that they are looking for.


The Mining Coach

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