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Federal Resources Minister Madeleine King has urged the resources industry to do more to encourage female employment in the sector, hosting a roundtable on jobs and skills in the sector.

King heard from industry about what they are doing to invest in, develop and attract skilled workers so the industry can sustain its crucial role in supporting the Australian economy, and used the roundtable in Brisbane to outline some of the workforce challenges facing the sector, and to hear how the government can support the industry to tackle the issues.

King said the resources sector employs more than 270 000 men and women and accounted for 10% of Australia’s gross domestic product. Resources and energy export earnings reached a new record of A$414-billion in the past financial year.

“With intense demand for Australia’s sustainably sourced and high-quality minerals, will come intense demand for the workers responsible for producing them. With the mining workforce already around all-time highs and projects worth tens of billions of dollars coming through the development pipeline, there will be a significant need for more workers. 

“This challenge is already here. Industry must find a way to attract the next generation of mining workers in order to continue flourishing.”

National Skills Week chairperson Brian Wexham warned that the worker shortage in the resources sector could slow mineral exports and could delay the climate change agenda.

“The mining sector has been highly productive over recent years despite the headwinds of Covid-19, variable commodity prices and the strained relationship with our number one trading partner, China. However, booming infrastructure spending in the eastern states has meant stiffer competition for skilled people who traditionally might have been lured to the more resource-rich states for work. Two job categories that stand out especially in this space are motor mechanics and civil engineers,” Wexham said.

“Motor mechanics are in short supply, due to smaller numbers from the training system, the closure until recently of international borders, and reduced geographic mobility. This imbalance is forecast to grow, especially in the mining states of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

“Civil engineers are central to government investment programs and will continue to be in demand given the long lead times on projects. A plateauing in higher education graduates has put more reliance on international migrants to perform this occupation,” he added.

Western Australia’s mining sector alone could need as many as 40 000 additional workers by mid-2023, Wexham said.

King said one way to increase skills supply was to employ more women in the sector. Latest data showed around 52 000 women were employed in the resources sector.

King said the Enough is Enough report into sexual harassment in Western Australia’s mining industry was an important wake-up call for the sector and underlined the need for more inclusive workplaces for women in the industry.

“The serious and disturbing issues raised by the Enough is Enough report cannot be confined to one state,” she said.

“It is critical that governments and industry work together to ensure we have safe and inclusive workplaces that welcome and encourage women to have rewarding careers in the mining sector.”