By Sarah Mills, ninemsn Money
Men and women around Australia are dusting off the city life in the thousands and heading to the Outback for the glittering pay packets offered by the booming mining industry.
Given the Australian Bureau of Statistics' most recent figures show the average wage for miners of $100,000 compares favourably with the national average of just $59,000, it is hardly surprising. Especially when one considers that once mining pay is extracted from the average, most Australians are earning even less.
With wage offers ranging between $80,000 and $200,000 and above, depending on the skill level, the call of the mines is hard to refuse.
So how good is it really in the boomtown economies? What jobs are on offer and how does one get a foot in the door?
Basically, the job opportunities are almost limitless. The mines operate like independent cities and like any city they need the full gamut of specialists.
Tradesmen such as electricians, carpenters, welders and boilermakers are all in demand. Then there's drivers, miners (of course), blasting crews, machine operators, management, human resources professionals, engineers, administration professionals, cooks, kitchen hands, cleaners, housekeepers, labourers, wharfies, builders, health professionals, community relations professionals, technicians, logisticians, IT professionals … The list goes on.
Male truck drivers for example can earn between $80,000 and $120,000 (depending on rosters and location) while women are being paid up to $180,000 for driving Haulpak trucks apparently they are kinder to the equipment than men.
Add to that the fact that the companies pay for all food and accommodation while on-site, then the proportion of pay available for saving (or big-spending as the case may be) is hefty.
Most mining jobs can be found in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. Even New South Wales mines are upping the ante to compete for staff.
One of the major trends has been the development of "commuter mines" or the FIFO (fly-in-fly-out) long-distance labour market. Lack of accommodation and a shortage of families prepared to relocate on a long-term basis to outback communities have meant mining companies are flying in staff from all over the country.
Most hire their own planes, load them with labour, and fly them in for weekly, fortnightly and even monthly stints. For example, a person may be flown in and work for two weeks then fly back and have a week off, staying in accommodation provided, or fly in for a month followed by a month off, depending on the rostering.
Accommodation is usually basic given it is in drastic short supply. Mining companies are buying up the local pubs, halls and community facilities (the effect on local communities can be devastating), all to house workers.
Despite the labour and skills shortage, some cite difficulties gaining entrance to the mines and this can differ from state to state and mine to mine. For example, a gold mine may have different requirements to a coal mine.
Recruitment often involves a generic induction test, which can cost between $90 and $200. Some sites require tickets for various skills. Police clearances and medical tests are also required.
Mining companies also prefer to hire people with previous experience because the risk and costs of employing people that leave are high. So those already working in the mines advise wannabes to take any work available because three months is often all the experience needed to pull in bigger pay packets.
They also suggest flying in at your own cost to attend the regular interview sessions (often two a week) on many sites.
Like any boom, those seeking the mining dollar know the opportunity will be short-lived so many are tossing up the prospect of leaving a secure job for a job that might not be there tomorrow.
There are pros and cons to working in the mines and much depends on individual temperament.
- Salaries are high.
- Overtime and camp allowances are generous.
- Personal expenses such as food, clothing and rent are reduced.
- There's a strong sense of community and bonding given close working conditions.
- There are long periods off, creating opportunities to pursue other interests during downtimes such as education, sport and hobbies.
- Provided services such as cooking and housekeeping give more spare time.
- The work provides for a different experience.
- There are opportunities for training and growth depending on the field of expertise.
- The opportunity to save and get ahead provides a financial incentive.
On the downside:
- Long separations from family can take a toll on personal lives, particularly when children are involved although for some this can be a plus.
- Work schedules are rigid.
- Some people do not react well to the social and psychological challenges of nomadic lifestyles.
- Often there is very little privacy as rooms and bathrooms are often shared.
- Some overtime is unpaid.
- Women may find working in a very male-dominated environment difficult.
- Long hours travelling can be difficult.
- Long hours on the job can be exhausting.
- Harsh working conditions are a challenge.
- Sometimes living conditions can be bad.
- There are safety risks, depending on the type of work mining is a dangerous occupation and people do die.
- No long-term job security. When it's over, it's over.