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Australian geoscientist unemployment static in the final quarter of 2019

Nationally, unemployment amongst Australia’s professional geoscientists was little changed between the third and fourth quarters of 2019.

Unemployment and under-employment amongst professional geoscientists in Australia June 2009 – December 2019.
  • The unemployment rate was static, with a rate of 7.3% recorded nationally, compared with 7.4% in the third quarter.
  • Slight improvement was evident in the national under-employment rate which fell from 14.1% to 13.1% between the end of September and end of December.
  • Unemployment continues to follow a decreasing trend, although the rate of improvement is slowing.
  • Forty percent of self-employed geoscientists (contractors and consultants) reported that they were unable to achieve more than 25% of their desired workload, pointing to an effective unemployment rate of around 12.5%.
  • Almost 43% of unemployed respondents reported being either out of work for more than 12 months. Some 32% reported being out of work for more than two years.

Geoscientist unemployment fell in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, but increased in Western Australia. The largest fall was recorded in New South Wales where the rate fell from 7.9% in September to only 2.8% in this survey. Under-employment fell in Western Australia and New South Wales. Again, the improvement in New South Wales was substantial with the rate falling from 26.3% in September to 11% I n December.

Geoscientist unemployment and under-employment by state, December 2019

The survey received 395 responses, interpreted to represent one in twenty geoscientists in Australia.

Australian Institute of Geoscientists President, Andrew Waltho, cautiously welcomed the results. “Any improvement in employment opportunities for professional geoscientists in Australia is welcome news” Mr Waltho said.

“The unemployment rate amongst geoscientists in Australia remains on a downward trend”. “Employment prospects for self-employed geoscientists are volatile, but also improving gradually”. “Long term unemployment amongst geoscientists remains a major problem, with more than a third of those currently without work having been unemployed for more than two years” Mr Waltho said.

“The proportion of geoscience roles provided by small resources companies stresses the importance of measures to encourage sustained investment in Australia’s resource industries” Mr Waltho said. “AIG and it’s kindred societies invest considerable work to maintain an environment in which investors have access to reliable, professionally prepared information relating to resources industry”. “Enforceable codes of practice with which all professional geoscientists are compelled to comply, the JORC and VALMIN Codes, play a major role in this” Mr Waltho said.

“Australia’s professional institutes and societies continue to provide a wide range of accessible, professional development opportunities for members, enabling unemployed members to maintain their qualifications and professional networks to help ensure that they remain work ready” Mr Waltho said.

The sectors in which geoscientists work vary significantly between states. In looking at minerals exploration and mining, and energy exploration and production, comparison of the proportion of geoscientists employed in each of these fields highlights some fundamental differences.

Comparison of geoscientists working in mineral resources industry sectors in Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria
Geoscientist employment in non-resources industry fields in Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria

Nationally, 61% of geoscientists work in mineral exploration, 17% in metalliferous mining and almost 7% are employed in energy resource exploration, mining and production (coal, coal seam gas, natural gas and petroleum).

In Western Australia, mineral exploration and mining together employ 86% of geoscientists working in that state. In Victoria, this figure is almost 68% while in New South Wales, mineral exploration and mining provide 55% of geoscientist employment opportunities. Queensland is just as dependent on mining for geoscience employment opportunities as Western Australia and Victoria, but energy resource exploration and production provides a greater proportion of jobs than in any other state. Metalliferous exploration and mining provide 55% of geoscientist employment opportunities in Queensland, with energy resource exploration, mining and production contributing a further 25%.

Geoscience fields including environmental and engineering geology, and groundwater resource management are becoming increasingly important sources of employment in Australia’s more populous states, meeting the demands of land management and infrastructure development. Public sector employment is also growing in these states. The role of the resources sector in providing geoscience employment opportunities in Australia is very similar to the situation in Canada, but distinctly different to Europe and the USA where a greater proportion of geoscientists are employed in other, particularly environmental and engineering geology and water resource management.

The relative importance of different sources of geoscientist employment vary significantly between states.

Resources companies provide almost three quarters of the employment opportunities in Western Australia, almost half of the employment opportunities in Victoria, but just over a third of the opportunities in Queensland and just over a quarter of job opportunities in NSW and the ACT.

Junior companies are the largest source of resource industry employment and the sole source of resources industry employment in Victoria. Major resources companies are major employers nationally, but their activities have most impact on employment opportunities in Western Australia and Queensland. The contribution of mid-tier companies to geoscientist employment in resources industries exceeds that of major companies in Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales.

Consulting and contracting companies are significant sources of employment in all states. Relatively high proportions of geoscientists opt for self-employment in New South Wales and the ACT, and Victoria.


Andrew Waltho
President, Australian Institute of Geoscientists, Brisbane

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