Western Australia’s skill shortage and its threat to mining development was a hot topic at the recent Diggers and Dealers event in Kalgoorlie. Ian Geddes, senior consultant with transformational specialists Keogh Consulting, provides his insights into the labour crisis and how a thriving culture is crucial for businesses to attract and retain good talent.
Much of Australia’s workforce has always been transient, moving between projects across the east and west coasts. However, COVID-19 has caused major disruptions to this movement of labour.
The skills shortage was on everyone’s minds at Diggers and Dealers, including Roy Hill boss Gerhard Veldsman who told guests the crisis would not abate until travel restrictions between the states are a thing of the past and skilled migrants can enter the country. The question remains until our borders are open and talent is free to move around the country and into Australia, how can mining companies attract and retain staff?
In this current climate, many of the big companies are trying to lure talent with onboarding bonuses and incentives. We saw similar things about 10 years ago when some of the big mining companies were paying huge amounts of money to graduates straight out of university, which killed the market for anyone else trying to attract talent. Many of the smaller companies simply can’t afford to do this, so a focus on promoting their culture becomes even more imperative.
Mining companies that focus on getting their culture right, have a chance of attracting good talent. In simple terms, it is about understanding what your business’ culture is and is not in behavioural terms. Then it’s about determining where you want to be and the culture you desire in the future and detailing exactly what that would look like. The next step is about implementing action to drive the culture to the desired future.
It is crucial that everyone in the business is aligned with this culture. The leaders must be on board, displaying the right behaviours and reinforcing the right approaches. Human resource systems must be aligned and reinforcing the desired future culture, while rituals and routines within the business also need to reflect those target outcomes. Going forward, businesses should then be selecting people that are aligned with the desired culture.
Companies looking to hire new staff should look at promoting the value proposition for new employees. What does the business’ culture look like? Is it a supportive, empowering place to work? Is it a fun environment? It’s about focusing on benefits and opportunities that exist for staff – things like professional development, training, promotional opportunities and secondments.
Even if culture may not be the primary thing that attracts new people to a company, all other things being equal, people will stay if the culture is right. Generally, people leave a business because of bad leadership, they don’t like their teammates or colleagues, discrimination, or if there are little or no development or feedback opportunities.
With COVID-19 restricting the movement of people into Australia as well as around the country, sourcing local talent becomes crucial. While some companies will poach staff from other organisations, I’ve long advocated that if you can’t find people in your industry, there is a big advantage in looking elsewhere for workers with similar competencies.
In this current climate, we may see more businesses thinking outside the box when it comes to staff and looking at workers from different industries who can be upskilled. We have been looking into a concept called talent mapping, which is focused on understanding the characteristics required for a certain role and then looking outside the industry for different professions that would fit that profile.
While the concept of talent mapping is sound, it is very difficult to do. First, you need to understand jobs in terms of a profile of skills, competencies, attributes, characteristics, cultural fit, physical and mental requirements. Once you understand the job’s requirements you need to find a profile match with people from another industry or sector. Having identified potential candidate matches you then need to attract them to the proposition of working in the mining sector. Culture and the value proposition come to the frontline as tools of attraction.
Whilst we may have found people that have many of the characteristics and skills to do these jobs, they may then need to do bridging courses or qualifications to get ‘up to speed’ so they can do the job required. Universities, TAFE and training providers increasingly have bridging courses – short courses – which people can complete to upskill their qualifications and gain any necessary qualifications or tickets. The cost of these courses may well be more attractive than paying onboarding bonuses and the like.
Talent mapping is in its infancy, and with organisations really needing to have a different approach when it comes to attracting and retaining staff, I wasn’t surprised the topic generated a lot of interest when I spoke about it with other guests during Diggers and Dealers. Looking outside the box for alternatives may be the savour of companies struggling to find talent.
The advancements in technology in mining could also pave the way for the industry to become more attractive to a wider pool of employees. The idea of FIFO work can put some people off the industry, but these days machinery such as trains and trucks can be operated remotely. While companies obviously still need people on the ground, some workers can be based in an office in Perth supporting sites and machinery thousands of kilometres away.
Whilst automation may provide opportunities for some, it may be some time before it becomes affordable and widespread in the industry. So, the case for culture, the value proposition for employees and talent mapping become attractive and the leverage mining businesses need to succeed.
Catch Ian’s interview about culture and the resources industry on 92.9 TripleM via their catch up podcast for Episode 41. We think the entire show is worth listening to, but if you wanted to tune in specifically to Ian’s segment, you could jump straight to 22:22.