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Skilled migrants crucial to resource industry

Wednesday, 08 August 2012

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Temporary migrant workers play an essential role in Australia’s resource industry by filling highly-skilled positions that cannot be met by local supply, the preliminarily findings of a pilot study by Edith Cowan University (ECU) have shown.

A team of researchers from ECU’s School of Management, led by Dr Susanne Bahn, together with the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) found that contrary to public perception, 457 visa recipients were not preventing skilled Australians from gaining employment within the resources sector.

The 457 visa is the most commonly used program for employers to sponsor specialised skilled overseas workers to work in Australia temporarily.

Dr Bahn is presenting the findings at the AMMA Migration and Labour Sourcing Conference in Perth on Thursday, 9 August 2012.

“This is the first study of its kind in Australia and shows that although the resources industry often seeks to employ Australian workers, some of the skills required are so specialised and only taught in one or two institutions globally, that the skill set required is simply not available,” Dr Bahn said.

She gave the example of helicopter engineers needed to maintain the equipment for oil and gas projects, who require up to six specialised licences that are only taught in the United Kingdom and France.

“Due to the lack of specialised skilled workers in Australia these companies are using their global workforce and employing them where and when they are needed.”

The study also found that some skilled Australian workers based in the eastern states are reluctant to relocate to WA.

“We identified cases where recently retrenched workers declined to relocate to WA and this was due to a range of reasons from social and family commitments to the high cost of living and a lack of infrastructure in some areas,” Dr Bahn said.

Improving social services and infrastructure is one way of attracting Australian workers to WA, according to AMMA Executive Director, Industry Ms Minna Knight.

“These preliminary findings highlight the need for industry and government to have a genuine discussion about worker mobility,” Ms Knight said.

“With more than $500 billion worth of projects in various approval and pre-approval stages in Australia, this research highlights the important role that temporary overseas labour plays in assisting major resource projects get off the ground and deliver future employment and economic benefits to Australians.”

The ECU team, in partnership with AMMA, will release a final report of the study 457 Visa Workers in the WA Resource Industry: The benefits and costs for business, migrant families, and the community by the end of 2012.

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