The Australian mining industry is currently one of the most dynamic industries in the world. With an average annual growth rate of 8.5 per cent, our mining sector is expected to generate revenue of approximately $208.9 billion in 2011–12, up from $138.8 billion in 2006–07. With the mining sector set to make up around 8.2 per cent of Australia's GDP in 2011–12, it’s creating jobs and helping to keep the economy afloat. No surprise, then, that more and more Australians are looking for ways to break into this thriving industry.
The Australian mining industry is one of the top five producers of key mineral commodities in the world. This growing industry, which also happens to have one of the best industrial safety records, provides direct employment to over 135 000 people. When you include those indirectly employed in the industry, this figure stands at over 320 000 people, and forecasts estimate that it will add another 170 000 jobs over the next five years.
So how does one break into a stable and profitable career in this booming sector? What are the kinds of jobs available and what do you need to do to get them?
To begin with you will need to decide if you want to enter the field as a professional or in a trades/operations capacity. Targeting and researching a specific position in the industry is crucial to getting your foot in the door so you can get the necessary qualifications and market yourself appropriately. You may need professional help with your resume or enrol in a course to polish up your skills.
Professionals are tertiary qualified, usually with the minimum award of a bachelor’s degree in a specific field of study. Trades/operations workers are either skilled people who have received vocational training in a specific trade, or labourers with relevant training and experience.
In the context of mining, geoscientists are the experts who explore and evaluate the earth to locate minerals. Geoscientists also advise on methods of mineral extraction, environmental protection and rehabilitation of land after mining.
Metallurgists are the professionals who study and apply physical methods for separating minerals from their ores. Some of the methods used to extract minerals include electrical, magnetic, gravitational and chemical methods. If you have a science degree you can get a Graduate Diploma in Extractive Metallurgy to give you a strong start in your professional mining career.
Mine surveyors are employed to measure underground and surface mines. They maintain an up-to-date plan of the mine as a whole, including underground progress as well as surface developments such as new buildings or structures. It is their job to ensure that mine development stays clear of old mines and other obstacles.
Engineering professionals are crucial to the building and operation of mine sites. Civil or structural engineers are the professionals who plan, design and oversee construction of building structures, transportation systems or hydraulic systems. Electrical engineers focus on the systems that generate, distribute, use and control electrical power.
Environmental professionals are responsible for applying scientific principles to develop ways of minimising harm to the natural environment. This may involve analysing pollutants, their sources and effects, as they relate to or are produced by mining. It may also involve finding solutions to rehabilitate land, water and air affected by mining, such as designing processes to treat waste.
Mines are complex businesses as well as communities, so they require a pool of professionals with a range of skills to cover all the areas. These include not only other types of engineers – mechanical, geological/geophysical and electronic, to name a few – but also accountants, project managers, transport & logistics experts, health and OH&S professionals, human resources, lawyers and community relations, amongst others.
If you are a recent graduate looking for an entry-level position, you may need to enter an internship program or a specialised graduate diploma or a master's degree in order to break into the industry.
Electricians deliver electricity to buildings, structures and machinery by installing and maintaining electrical systems. Electricians are employed by the mining industry to ensure that electricity is always available to the various parts of the mines and accommodation areas.
Mechanics are needed to maintain diesel vehicles and equipment as well as plant equipment in the mining industry, ensuring that they operate safely and efficiently. Mechanics on a mine are required to diagnose, repair, tune and maintain diesel and petrol or gas powered heavy vehicles, as well as stationary engines on equipment such as generators, pumps and drilling rigs.
Working as a fabrication engineering tradesperson involves making parts or sub-assemblies by cutting, shaping, moulding and hammering metal. Equipment used includes hand-held tools, welding equipment or computer numerical control (CNC) machines. Some of the metal fabrication tradesperson positions available in mining include welders, boilermakers (heavy fabrication) and sheetmetal workers (light fabrication).
Drillers set up and operate drilling rigs to drill holes for mineral exploration. Drillers also operate equipment related to the activity around drilling and may be responsible for minor maintenance and repairs.
It takes a multitude of heavy duty equipment to keep a mine site productive and functional. Equipment operators are responsible for the safe use of vehicles or equipment to carry out required or specialised tasks such as bulldozing, excavating or bogging (transporting waste rock and soil or ore from one area to another).
Some of the equipment operator positions available in mining include jumbo operators, bogger operators, excavator operators, bulldozer operators, grader operators and scraper operators.
A shotfirer is responsible for the assembly, positioning and safe detonation of explosives in mines to dislodge rock and soil. This job requires basic skills in mathematics and science, training and an up-to-date shotfirer's licence.
This is one of the most sought after positions in the mining industry. To work as a truck driver on a mine site you will need to have the relevant licences and training or experience. If you are looking to train as a truck driver, be sure that the organisation you train with is a registered training organisation (RTO).
The following qualifications can improve your chances of finding work as a truck driver: heavy rigid (HR) vehicle licence and some previous experience operating heavy machinery, First Aid Certificate, MARCSTA (Mining and Resource Contractors Safety Training Association) accreditation and a pre-employment medical exam.
Other trades/operations opportunities in mining include fitters, lab assistants, caterers, field assistants, labourers and miners themselves. The relevant VET training is required for most skilled trades positions.
Different companies have different processes for hiring, so make sure you do your research to find out what you can do to make yourself more employable and qualified. Tradespeople may require relevant licences and machinery tickets to operate certain vehicles or machinery. Many roles require that you must be 18 years old or over, have a clean police record, pass a medical examination and have drug and alcohol clearance. Many companies also choose to employ people who are already living within close proximity to the mine sites. At the very least, you must be prepared to work on a FIFO (fly in, fly out) roster.
The opportunities in mining are many, as are the rewards. It’s not for the faint-hearted and you’ll have to work hard, but if you've got what it takes, it's one of the most lucrative and in-demand careers around.
Check out our range of courses to launch your mining career.