Mine work still drawcard for Kiwis

By Gill South

Plenty of work in Perth CBD and in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Much of the engineering work in Australia is coming from big infrastructure projects in Western Australia and Queensland. Photo / Supplied
Much of the engineering work in Australia is coming from big infrastructure projects in Western Australia and Queensland. Photo / Supplied

For Kiwi job-seekers, the Australian market on the whole is still very healthy with relatively low unemployment. The healthier state of Australia compared with Britain is leading to a trend for skilled New Zealanders to do their OE in Australia and Asia rather than in the UK because the job market in Europe is so unwelcoming.

Australia could, however, be described as a two-speed economy, says Fred van der Tang, CEO of international recruitment firm Randstad Australia and NZ. The job market around mining, resources and associated professional services is continuing to do well, whereas job creation has been much slower in retail banking.

There are geographical differences too, he says.

"There's more job creation in Western Australia and Queensland where the mines are."

The work is coming from big infrastructure projects in these regions. At the start of the design phase, this requires engineering and white-collar skills, then the building phase drives the job creation, calling for construction workers, electricians, people to lay the road and manage maintenance.

Those who can drive trucks the size of an office building are very much in demand, adds van der Tang.

The key word in the engineering and industrial sectors is mobility. "We've seen a lot of people moving in and out of areas."

Because the engineering job market is where there are huge skills shortages in Australia, engineers are able to tailor their jobs to suit their lifestyles.

Some professionals are living on the east coast of Australia and flying into Western Australia for work while others, employed in WA, are basing themselves and their families in Bali.

Some New Zealanders are commuting from home. "It's just a few hours of flying - it still stacks up favourably," says van der Tang.

Western Australia is growing in appeal. "The people we place in Perth, are probably the most international bunch of people."

Adam Harris, Robert Walters' Brisbane manager of mining and engineering, says the engineering skills being sought in the current market are mining and oil and gas related, where demand is booming.

Most of the demand is for on-site engineers, he says. "You've got to be willing to go and work in the middle of nowhere, places like Bowen Basin in Queensland or the Pilbara in Western Australia.

"If you are a mining engineer with longwall [underground coalmining] experience, you are in demand. You can get a job from Hunter Valley, Wollongong to Bowen Basin."

New Zealand has a few good underground coalmines so Kiwi engineers have good experience in this area.

"We regularly try and headhunt people from out of New Zealand with these sorts of skills," says Harris.

Longwall mining companies are very happy to fly people over for interviews, he adds.

"It is always easier to get employment if you are physically here, but investigate first."

The mining industry has changed a lot over the past 10 years, says Harris. Once people grew up worked only in the local mines, these days they are far more mobile.

Experienced mining engineers can expect to be 10 to 30 per cent better paid in Australia than New Zealand, Harris says. A principal engineer will get a base salary of $200,000.

Meanwhile, for Kiwis seeking executive jobs based in Melbourne and Sydney, Randstad's van der Tang, says that while the banking market has been slower in terms of job creation, it is still reasonably buoyant.

"The Australian financial market is one of the most healthy of the world markets."

A New Zealander, Ian Narev, was recently named the managing director and CEO of Commonwealth Bank of Australia, replacing another Kiwi, Sir Ralph Norris, he points out.

"It just goes to show there is still life in the market."

Also, one of the big job creators in Australia remains the government, whether federal, state or local. It still accounts for 20-25 per cent of the Australian job market.

And while employers may be more loath to hire permanent staff, many are contracting out work.

"You are seeing this in just about every industry, with higher demand for contracting roles than permanent ones due to the uncertainty in the market, especially for those with marketable skills," says van der Tang.

One of the most important characteristics Australian employers are looking for is flexibility to move from project to project, he says. Contractors are practised at becoming valuable more quickly.

The Australian IT sector, meanwhile, is in recruiting mode with technical skills and business analysis skills in demand. Project managers are needed and experts in web development and social media.

IT recruitment is expecting a busy third and fourth quarter this year, says Robert Walters' associate director in Sydney, Peter Bateson.

The final half of the year is often the busiest because a lot of companies have completed their financial years and are ready to spend again.

IT projects will be given the green light and money is being spent on cloud computing and visualisation work.

Good salary packages are being negotiated for strong IT candidates who have the skills that are in demand such as SharePoint, SAP and network engin-eers, says Robert Walters' research.

Opportunities are especially strong in Perth with a shortage of IT professionals there and plenty of work in the city's CBD.

According to Bateson, a lot of the demand in New South Wales is coming from the National Broadband Network, a 10-year, $36 billion project bringing high-speed broadband to the country.

Australia is "candidate-short" for skilled roles such as project managers with telecommunications industry knowledge for this. Telco companies are also recruiting on the back of the broadband project.

IT specialists, meanwhile, are being recruited heavily in the digital media space. Opportunities are springing up for programmers of mobile phone/smartphone applications, and business analysts in digital media, says Bateson.

Candidates with banking, industry, and telecom industry knowledge with technical skills are a lot more interchangeable than they were in the past.

- NZ Herald

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