Since the gold rushes of the 1850s, which attracted droves of hopeful prospectors from across the world, mining has played a central role in the development of Australia’s economy, while also motivating many early explorers to map inland regions of the country. Recent booms in the production of iron ore, nickel, and coal cemented Australia’s place as a major supplier of essential commodities to the global economy. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and a significant producer of tin, aluminium, copper, gold, iron, diamond, opal, and zinc. Its mining sector directly employs some 187,400 people, whose roles range from prospecting and maintenance supervision to driving and physical labour.
Jobs in the mining industry fit roughly within four categories.
The first includes people in professional occupations. Often, they are responsible for the work that begins long before any minerals are actually extracted from the earth. For example, geologists or petroleum technicians might analyse seismic data and core samples to identify areas of potential commercial interest. Engineers then work to figure out how best to extract the mineral, addressing issues such as mine design, as well as the infrastructure required to transport minerals to processing plants or distribution centres.
The second category involves roles associated with the extraction and transportation of minerals. This includes machine operators, engineers, drivers, and labourers. Many employees within this category work with specialised equipment, such as the large rock-dust machines used to spray mine surfaces to hold down dust.
The third category involves people in roles related to the construction and maintenance of both the mines themselves and all related machinery. Mines rely on engineers, mechanics, builders, and other trade professionals to keep equipment running, even when it’s expected to function under conditions of extreme stress (such as high temperatures or large loads).
Finally, the fourth category involves professionals in administrative and business-related roles. For example, many larger mining companies retain significant in-house legal and financial teams.
Due to the breadth of the mining industry, it employs people across Australia in both metropolitan and regional areas. Some of the more prominent mining organisations include Alcoa, BHP, Bluescope Steel, Hancock Prospecting, Newcrest, and Rio Tinto.
The regional centres of Australian mining are Kalgoorlie, the Hunter Valley, and the Bowen Basin. Australia’ largest active mines are overwhelmingly concentrated in South Australia and Western Australia, which produce iron ore, coal and gold. There are also significant mining centres in the Hunter Valley (New South Wales) and the Bowen Basin (Queensland). While many mining sector personnel are based in remote towns, others have a ‘fly-in, fly-out’ lifestyle that allows them to spend weekends and off-time in the more densely populated areas of Australia’s cities and towns.
However, you won’t only find mining sector employees in the field. This industry provides jobs to some 600,000 people in support industries, including those who provide mining software and manage supply chains. Many of these employees are situated in major cities.
As a STEM graduate, you will find that many of the careers best suited to your skills begin with entry to a graduate program. For example, larger engineering firms usually start their graduate recruitment process in March. They aim to attract, identify, and hire standout employees by offering a range of structured programs. Due to the nature of the mining industry, many of these programs involve one or more rotations to regional areas of Australia.
After a sharp slowdown in the mining sector, industry analysts are once more optimistic. This is due to renewed demand for traditional commodities, such as copper, lithium, nickel, and gold, as well as an emerging market for certain rare earth metals. These metals, which include neodymium and vanadium, are present in large quantities in Australia and have many uses in electronics.
As a result, the outlook for the mining industry at large seems bright: and this bodes well for the people who work within it. In Western Australia, the industry is predicted to increase by 4000 jobs between 2018–2023, with many of these positions going to engineers, technicians and other STEM professionals.
Many graduate mining roles require a STEM degree. Jobs in this category including mining engineer, electrical engineer, chemical and materials engineer, geologist, geophysicist, and hydrogeologist.
However, the sector is also replete with roles for which a STEM background isn’t necessarily mandatory. If you are applying for such a job – for example, as a project manager, equipment operator, or production manager – you will find it beneficial to take stock of your transferrable skills and emphasise whichever ones are most relevant to the position for which you are applying. For example, if you studied biology, and conducted studies that required strong attention to detail, you would do well to mention this when applying for a role (such as safety inspector) that demands vigilance and the ability to detect small changes in real-time.
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