Barnaby Joyce mining inquiry hears of skilled worker drain

SKILLS DRAIN: The inquiry's Emma Bayer and Barnaby Joyce hear evidence from Gunnedah deputy mayor Gae Swain. Photo: Gareth Gardner
SKILLS DRAIN: The inquiry's Emma Bayer and Barnaby Joyce hear evidence from Gunnedah deputy mayor Gae Swain. Photo: Gareth Gardner

A FEDERAL inquiry has heard about the uphill battle regional towns face to stop the drain of tradies to the mines, which leaves other businesses scratching for skilled workers.

The issue came under the spotlight at a parliamentary inquiry, chaired by New England MP Barnaby Joyce, in to the relationship between regional businesses and the mining sector. 

Gunnedah Chamber of Commerce Stacey Cooke said the town’s businesses were losing staff to the mining sector.

“Employees are starting and completing their traineeships with regional businesses, then losing them to the mines afterwards,” Mrs Cooke said.

“Regional businesses are investing quite a lot of their time and money in to training these people, only to lose them anyway.”

Gunnedah Chamber of Commerce vice president Mike Broekman, who owns a Namoi Valley Bricks, has first-hand experience losing staff to the mines. 

“In the past, prior to the extraction industry, we had a 10-year turnaround in staff – now it’s down to six to 12 months,” Mr Broekman said.

“It takes us 18 months to get someone fully trained.

“In 2016/17 financial year, we lost about $1 million worth of work, because we couldn’t find enough staff. It happened again in 2017/18.”

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While trades such as boilermakers, fitters and electricians were often the first to go, Mr Broekman said it was even difficult to source truck drivers and plant operators.

Gunnedah deputy mayor Gae Swain told the inquiry there was an “uneasy balance” between the mining and the manufacturing sectors, driven by the “fierce competition” for local skilled people.

“Local employers are finding it difficult to retain their skilled employees as they are attracted to the higher wages being paid by the mines,” Cr Swain said.

Mr Joyce said it was clear more needed to be done in the training sector, from both the mining industry and through government organisations such as TAFE.

“When the mines fire up, like they are right now, they’re going to be sucking up trades,” Mr Joyce said.

This story Uphill battle to stop drain of skilled workers to the mines first appeared on Namoi Valley Independent.

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