When we met up a couple of weeks ago Rob posed an interesting question. He was pondering whether he should just close up shop for the time being and go on holiday for the next six months and hope that things will have improved by the time he returned and that companies will have started to undertake studies once again and be in need of a hydrogeologist.
We debated the merits of this approach and came to the conclusion that although the prospect of obtaining work during the course of the next six months might be slim, there was a significant risk that once confidence returned to the industry that his absence from the market might make him invisible to potential clients and therefore less likely to pick up work than if had he maintained a presence. Whilst the industry may stay in the doldrums for the next six months or more, actually picking the bottom of the market and when companies might start spending money again is fraught with difficulty.
So we concluded that both he and I would continue to maintain a presence in the market place even if, for the time being at least, it is quiet out there.
One of the factors that drove our decision process was the knowledge that a significant number of other mining professionals are currently unemployed and whilst not all of them will have hung up out their shingle as a consultant, most we assumed, would be more than happy with taking on some form of contract work if it were available. Therefore, there are a significant number of people potentially competing for the work that we do.
A week or so later, I thought that it might be interesting to try and quantify the level of unemployment in the industry and therefore the level of competition for work within the mining sector.
I found three sources of information regarding employment and unemployment in the mining industry. These are referenced at the end of this article.
The first was an Industry Outlook published by the federal Department of Employment in mid-2014. This indicated that total employment in the mining industry as at May 2014 was 268,000 people. If we use the AusIMM/AIG criteria for membership, i.e. a bachelor degree or higher as defining a “mining professional”, then taking the data from the Industry Outlook paper, which shows the industry workforce broken down by educational achievement level, this indicates that there are a total of 56,500 people with a bachelor and postgraduate degrees.
My second source of data was the AusIMM Professional Employment Survey issued in October 2015, which indicated that 16.2% of mining professionals were currently unemployed. Interestingly this figure correlates well with the number produced by the AIG which shows that 15% of its members are currently unemployed.
Based on these numbers we can reasonably assume that around 9,200 mining industry professionals are currently unemployed. Now whilst these will be spread across a variety of disciplines it still means that at a significant number of people are competing in each area of specialisation for what is currently, a limited amount of work.
Another interesting statistic from the AIG data is that 20% of their membership is currently under-employed. If this statistic holds true across all disciplines, there could be another 11,300 people who are currently under-employed, suggesting that there are around 20,500 people competing for available work in the mining industry at present!
Statistics like that grab your attention and in my mind at least, endorses Rob’s and my decision to keep ourselves in front of potential clients, even if the prospects of immediate engagement may be slight.
One other interesting statistic from the Industry Outlook paper that I would like to share, is that the mining industry has a much higher percentage of people with Certificate III & IV qualifications than for all industries (35.1% versus 20.7%) but for all higher qualifications (diploma, advanced diploma, bachelor degree and postgraduate degree) we have a smaller percentage of people holding those qualifications than in all industries combined.
I haven't yet worked out what that tells us about our industry but it is certainly something to contemplate over a bottle of red.
In the meantime it seems like an opportune time to acquire some new skills!