A skilled, diverse and growing workforce that enables the desired development of Australia’s critical minerals sector, particularly as we move into downstream processing.
This page belongs to: Critical Minerals Strategy 2023–2030
'No advanced industrial capabilities can be made sustainable without commensurate investment in Australian workers’ skills, knowledge and qualifications.'
Why action is needed
During the public consultation process, stakeholders told us that a lack of skilled workers is a significant risk facing the sector. According to Jobs and Skills Australia, the country has a national shortage of key professions such as:
- mining engineers
- geological, geotechnical and processing engineers
Australia is competing in an increasingly challenging and competitive labour market, with the OECD reporting labour markets globally have tightened across countries and sectors (OECD 2022). In early 2022, Europe reported 1.2 million open job roles across all sectors. According to one estimate, the US Inflation Reduction Act will create demand for 5.9 million new jobs in US clean energy and manufacturing over the next decade (Pollin et al, 2022). In Australia, there are nearly 440,000 vacant positions, including more than 10,000 in the mining sector and more than 25,000 in the manufacturing sector (ABS 2023).
Skills shortages coupled with a reluctance of young people and recent graduates to join the mining sector present a real risk for the sector more broadly but also for the critical minerals industry. Only 15 per cent of respondents to a global survey said they would be interested in working in mining and only 54 per cent believed that the mining sector is an essential part of the global climate solution (BDO 2022). There is a role for governments and industry to continue to communicate the actions it is taking to generate positive environmental and social impact, including its vital role in enabling a future green economy.
Australia’s resources sector employs more than 290,000 people (ABS 2023) and accounts for 14 per cent of our GDP (Office of the Chief Economist 2022). Women make up less than 15 per cent of the large-scale mining workforce around the world, and 18 per cent in Australia (Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development 2022). The mining sector has the second-lowest proportion of women employees. Low participation rates can be due to remote locations, cultures that are not inclusive, job security, and a lack of flexible working options such as part-time and job-sharing arrangements.
Reaching net zero by 2050 will require the expertise of the resources sector. The critical minerals industry will need many more workers for existing mines and projects coming through the development pipeline. Critical minerals mining and processing are complex operations in remote locations that need highly skilled workers and technicians in a range of fields. We need highly skilled metallurgists, mining engineers, industrial chemists, earth scientists and many more if we are to fully capture the opportunity at hand. This is a valuable opportunity for people at all stages of their career to consider the diverse career options available in the critical minerals sector to drive the net zero transition.
The sector can also create economic opportunities in regional communities, including those in economic transition. It will do this by providing training and jobs for local people and opportunities for local businesses.
These benefits increase as Australian projects move further down the value chain. Increasing value-added processing onshore in Australia could attract further investment, create more jobs and deepen the economic opportunity for communities. For example, by developing diversified battery industries, including downstream, activities Australia’s battery industry and mineral value chains could support 61,400 direct jobs by 2030 (Accenture 2023).
'Diversity is good business. Companies in the sector that recognise this will enjoy a long-run competitive advantage.'
What we are already doing
The Government has several major initiatives to address workforce challenges and skills gaps, including the $3.1 billion Australian Apprenticeships Incentive System and $504 million for Jobs and Skills Councils.
The $105.1 million New Energy Apprenticeship and New Energy Skills Programs will see 10,000 eligible apprentices receive up to $10,000 to help with the cost of living during their apprenticeship, and industry-based mentoring, peer support and networking opportunities to assist in developing the next generation of skilled clean energy workers.
The $1 billion 12-Month Skills Agreement is making available 180,000 Fee-Free TAFE places across Australia in 2023. Fee-Free TAFE offers vocational and education training in priority areas of the economy including construction, manufacturing, sovereign capability and the technology and digital sectors. The Government has committed over $400 million to extend access to Fee-Free TAFE from 2024 for another 300,000 places to be delivered through the National Skills Agreement.
Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) was established as a priority by the Government as a body to provide independent advice, working in partnership with tripartite partners and stakeholders to provide advice to address skills and labour market issues, to build the skilled workforce Australia needs for the future.
Enabling inclusive, safe work conditions and cultures increases diversity and the participation and retention of workers.
The Government has formalised its commitment to gender equality in the clean energy transition by signing up to the equal pay, equal leadership and equal opportunity objectives of the global Equal by 30 campaign. Our Pathway to Diversity in STEM Review will examine how changes to STEM programs and other measures can better address gender inequities to improve pathways into the opportunities and rewards of mining careers.
Every worker has the right to be safe and treated with respect at work. The Enough is Enough report and the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work Report shone a spotlight on unacceptable behaviour in the workplace and the need for more inclusive workplaces for women. The Government supports the recommendations of these reports. We will work with state and territory governments to ensure our mining and resources industries are safe and supportive workplaces for all workers.
The National Strategy to Achieve Gender Equality highlights the Government’s commitment to advancing gender equality in Australia. In the critical minerals policy space, gender equality and First Nations engagement strategies will inform part of the assessment criteria for grant programs like the Critical Minerals Development Program. This provides a clear signal to the sector that gender equality and First Nations engagement are key priorities for the Government and will allow the Government to collect data and track progress in the sector.
What we will do
The future of Australia’s critical minerals sector relies on creating well-paying, inclusive jobs that attract and retain a diverse and skilled workforce. Key to attracting a skilled workforce, including young people, is to communicate the opportunities available across the sector as well as highlight the innovative ways that the sector is addressing social and environmental issues. This includes the role of the sector in supplying the raw materials needed for the batteries, electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels that will power the renewable energy transition. A larger pool of workers will help the industry scale up to meet supply chain demand and benefit from the increased innovation and productivity that diversity can bring.
To deliver on these commitments and build inclusive environments, all levels of government and industry need to work together to ensure that the mining industry is a safe and inclusive workplace that welcomes and encourages all Australians.
Workplaces need to address systemic barriers to workplace inclusivity, particularly occupational and industrial gender segregation. Employers need to demonstrate greater accountability in actively ensuring workplaces are safe, inclusive and fair to genuinely be committed to increasing workforce diversity.
JSA’s workforce and skills analysis function will analyse industries which are facing skills shortages. This will include providing data and analysis to support the skills and training system to respond to current and future workforce needs. JSA will assess workforce requirements, taking a whole of economy outlook, with cross-industry analysis. This will include analysis in regional, rural and remote Australia.
JSA will identify where skills shortages exist, and project where they are likely in the future, using a national supply and demand model to improve the identification of skills and labour imbalances and issues across the economy. This will include consideration of the VET, higher education, apprenticeships, and migration systems, given all are required to respond to labour shortages now and in the future.
The data, analysis, and industry-specific advice from JSA will help governments and stakeholders to make policy, program, and funding decisions regarding skills shortages and how to best address these critical issues. Jobs and Skills Councils will collaborate with JSA to align workforce planning activities for their industry sectors, creating a uniform understanding of the skills landscape and how to address skills gaps and occupations in demand.
- Through the Jobs and Skills Councils, develop options to address skills shortages including in the mining, automotive and manufacturing sectors over the short-, medium- and long-term.
- Prioritise implementation of options to reduce skills shortages by addressing workplace safety, culture and flexibility barriers to attraction and retention of women, First Nations people and other culturally diverse people.
- Through the Employment White Paper and the Migration Strategy, explore ways to address skills shortages with skilled migration at a whole-of-economy level, including a formal role for JSA in providing the evidence base needed to target skills in demand.
- Work with industry and governments at all levels to ensure safe and inclusive workplaces that support the growth of a diverse workforce.
- Work with industry and state and territory governments to improve community sentiment and understanding of the mining sector’s role in energy transition and lift its profile by highlighting the broad range of employment opportunities available, including the role of critical minerals and energy transition metals in net zero.