Are we facing a future skills crisis in Australian mining? It’s a thought I’ve put too many of my guests on the Full Production podcast, and the answer has been a resounding yes. We’re simply not equipping people with the skills we’re going to need as an industry.
My recent conversation with Damian McDonald brought the problem front and centre. As a partner in one of Australia’s top mining equipment repair and rebuild shops, QMRC. His business is absolutely dependent on the quality of his tradespeople, his thoughts are sobering.
So what’s going wrong with the apprenticeship model and how can we fix it?
We Need To Value Apprenticeships Again
As Damian puts it: “We’re actually letting the industry down with our training and apprenticeships. I know some companies still have a high belief in it and are putting a few good apprentices through, and actually focusing on the training,” he says. “But there are a lot of companies that aren’t, and they need to put more time and energy back into it.”
Giving Something Back Is Key To A Strong Industry
For those of us who have got so much out of a career in mining, the importance of giving something back to the industry can’t be underestimated. “At the end of the day, if we don’t start putting something back into the industry, from (the) perspective of what we’ve learnt and we know, then you’re going to gradually lose it,” Damian says. “You just need to look at the quality that’s been diluted over a number of years by trying to spread tradespeople too thin, and then trying to shorten apprenticeships.”
Creating The Multi-skilled, Well-rounded Tradespeople Of The Future
Damian puts a lot of stock in giving apprentices as broad experience as possible. “The more opportunity they have to get around and see different things and different methods, the better their skills will be,” he says. “You could work with two tradesmen all through your apprenticeship, or you could work with 202. The benefit of having a few more is you get to pick the best out of all their skills. At the end of the day, you want to take the best methods from everyone you’ve worked with and then develop your own.”
Developing And Nurturing People For The Long Term
This is where the rubber hits the road. People and their skills need time to develop. QMRC is a great example of investing in people for the future. It’s one of the few businesses that I can think of, particularly in the mining game, that hasn’t put anyone off in 11 years, even through the GFC. That’s something to think about. Consider the skills and experience they’ve nurtured and maintained during that time, and how they are now reaping the benefits.
The future of training, apprenticeships and apprentices is an important question, and it’s one you might be considering in your own business or workplace. The future of your business and the industry may just depend on the outcome.
Listen to my entire conversation with Damian here.