Generous Friday night bar tabs and on-the-spot job offers while playing pool — this is the life of mining engineering students soon to graduate amid a skills shortage in Western Australia’s latest mining boom.
- The mining industry is in need of skilled workers like engineers and geologists
- Uni students in relevant fields are being courted through social events
- The students are able to choose between multiple offers with high-paying salaries
For many university students around the country, graduation this year is a daunting process with an uncertain pandemic-hit economy.
But the same cannot be said for soon-to-be graduates of Curtin University’s century-old WA School of Mines in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, where mining companies are resorting to unconventional methods to fill their graduate positions.
Engineering graduates in demand
Ryan Stewart is a fourth-year mining engineering student at the Kalgoorlie campus and already has six job offers.
The 21-year-old from Perth is one of just 25 engineering students and knows he is in demand.
Mr Stewart has already declined further job interviews with BHP, telling the world’s biggest mining company that he wanted to face more diverse and challenging work than he would receive at the company.
Instead, he has chosen to work for South African mining giant Gold Fields on a starting salary ranging between $130,000 to $140,000 a year, while working an eight days on, six days off roster.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the median income for an Australian with a post-graduate degree in 2020 was $83,200.
Gold Fields, which gave their WA workforce a 6 per cent pay rise earlier this year, said they have a target of recruiting 35 graduates this year across engineering, metallurgy and geotechnical positions.
Unconventional recruiting methods
Mining students told the ABC that companies are not just competing on starting salaries, but the recruitment process trickles through alcohol-fuelled social events, including the after-parties at Kalgoorlie’s famous Diggers and Dealers Mining Forum.
“I was drunk having a chat and they [company representatives] gave me a dart and they were trying to convince me to come work for them,” geology student Harry Taverner said.
“They say, ‘we’ll let you do whatever you want, we’ll teach you, you can do open pit, exploration, underground’.
“It’s a very casual matesy culture.”
At just 20, Maria Sullivan is one of only three female mining engineering students in her cohort.
She gets bombarded with offers to work at university social events, where companies put on a bar tab every Thursday and Friday night.
Ms Sullivan said Fortescue Metals Group, chaired by billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest, recruited her in her first year of study.
She said companies which do not scout students early have to compete by offering higher salaries later.
“If you don’t have a graduate locked in by their second year, you have to buy them from other companies,” Ms Sullivan said.
According to WA’s Chamber of Minerals and Energy (CME), the State’s mining and resources sector could need as many as 40,000 additional workers by mid-2023.