The world has changed and to stay competitive in the global marketplace, so has Queensland’s minerals and energy sector.
To attract and retain the services of the skilled people who give Queensland a major competitive advantage, our industries must recognise that lifestyle is now a key factor.
The talent recruitment landscape today is vastly different to the one that dictated the creation of ‘mining towns’ last century. For example, ‘stay at home mums’ and single income families are now in the minority. Close to 3 million women are engaged in full-time work and it is increasingly the exception for one bread-winner to nominate where a household must live.
Improvements in transport options and reliability coupled with the explosion in communications technology have invited today’s workers to put lifestyle choices on an equal footing with wages and conditions. We know this because in 2011, we asked resource workers what they want.
Social scientists at URS Australia undertook a Workforce Accommodation Survey of more than 1000 resident and almost 1000 non-resident employees of QRC member companies. The survey sought to quantify employee demand for workforce accommodation options and identify the drivers for those preferences.
A major finding was that more than 60 per cent of non-resident respondents had been in the industry for five years or more, contradicting claims that people who work fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) rosters struggle with the ‘emotional strain’ for two years, and then leave the industry.
The survey found that almost 68 per cent of both residential and non-residential workers were in their preferred accommodation arrangements. Importantly, the majority of these said they accepted their current position because their preferred residential arrangements were available.
The clear implication is that without accommodation choices, significantly fewer people would be choosing to work in our sector. This highlights the importance of companies being able to provide choice of accommodation arrangements.
Twelve per cent of resident and non-resident respondents said they would prefer alternative accommodation arrangements – effectively cancelling each other out.
Overwhelmingly, employees said that they would not change their existing accommodation arrangements. Just one in 10 non-residential workers was interested in buying a house close to his or her work, confirming a 90 per cent preference for ‘living on the coast’.
Mackay and district was the most popular home base for survey participants followed by Townsville, Brisbane, Rockhampton/Yeppoon and the Sunshine Coast.
Regardless of where they choose to live, Queensland resources sector employees are largely comfortable with their decision-making, and appreciative that they have choice. Their wages don’t disappear, as they spread the benefits of the resources sector across the state.
As the 21st century continues to relegate the ‘tyranny of distance’ to the history books, resources sector workers are voting with their feet in elevating the value they place on lifestyle choice.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to the sector’s long-term skills needs, and industry continues to be proactive in addressing issues faced by FIFO and DIDO workers.
The QRC recently commissioned the University of Queensland’s Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining – a division of the Sustainable Minerals Institute – to prepare a Reference guide for FIFO/DIDO workers.
Its purpose is to provide useful information to people considering applying for positions requiring long-distance commuting.
It recognises FIFO work provides significant advantages for both companies and employees, but may also present challenges for some employees in adapting their lifestyle and managing personal relationships.
Again, this guide is about giving people the opportunity to make informed choices, including tips and advice for both employers and employees.
Queensland Resources Council (QRC)
Michael Roche, who is an economist, has held senior management positions with the Australian Stock Exchange in Sydney. Prior to this he served as Deputy Director-General of the Queensland Cabinet Office and Chief of Staff to the Queensland Treasurer.