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Overall improvement trend in geoscientist unemployment continues, but self-employed geoscientists still doing it tough

Australian Geoscientist employment survey results for Q4 2018 released.

  • Call also made for greater political action to ensure more equitable and timely access to land for exploration
  • More women also forging geoscience careers

The latest quarterly Australian geoscientist unemployment survey for the final quarter of 2018, conducted during January 2019, revealed a slight increasein geoscientist unemployment, from 8.3% at the end of September, to 9.1% at the end of December 2018. Underemployment amongst self-employed geoscientists, however, rose significantly from 12.9% to 18.5% for the same period.

However, despite the dip for the past quarter, the new results pointed to evidence of an overall improving job trend since June 2016.

“This latest quarterly result is disappointing”, Australian Institute of Geoscientists spokesperson, Mr Andrew Waltho said today, “coming at a time when there was genuine optimism regarding an improvement in exploration activity, several, significant new mineral discoveries, and speculation regarding potential skills shortages facing the exploration and mining sectors”.  

Geoscientist employment in Australia June 2009 – December 2018

“Both the Federal Government and Opposition have announced initiatives to support mineral exploration research if elected in the May Federal election, but no-one is talking about improving processes facilitating equitable and timely access to land for exploration,” Mr Waltho said. 

“In fairness, this is a state issue, but we are still seeing bureaucratic and lengthy processes in operation that disadvantage the junior exploration sector in particular, with little sign of change,” Mr Waltho said.

The unemployment and underemployment situation varied widely between states.  Unemployment was lowest in South Australia (5.3%), NSW and ACT (5.6%) and Victoria (5.9%), followed by Western Australia (8.3%).  The results for Victoria and South Australia represent marked improvements on the previous, September quarter survey.  Unemployment in Western Australia was 8.3%, up from 6.5%. Unemployment in Queensland jumped from 11.5% in the September quarter to 15.1% in this survey.

Employment state by state. Too few survey responses were received from South Australia and the Northern Territory for inclusion.

All states except South Australia saw little change or an increase in unemployment in the 12 months between December 2017 and December 2018, but an overall improving trend since June 2016 remains evident.

The underemployment rate in South Australia took some gloss off the positive unemployment figure, coming in at 36.8% for the quarter, followed by Queensland (24.2%), NSW/ACT (16.9%), Western Australia (14.9%) and Victoria (11.8%).  

The survey attracted 391 individual responses.  Too few responses were received from Tasmania and the Northern Territory for the reporting of state results.

Junior exploration and mining companies employ 29% of Australia’s geoscientists according to this survey, almost as many as major and mid-tier companies combined.  

Cultural shift needed

“This amply demonstrates the importance of measures to help small employers avoid burning precious capital waiting for approvals before conducting productive exploration activities” Mr Waltho said.  

“Small companies have a limited capital base on which is difficult to raise further funds and must be used productively if they are to survive,” Mr Waltho said.

“Early career geoscientists tend to be employed in greater numbers by major mining and exploration companies but this soon changes as geoscientists gain professional experience, suggesting that major companies need to look more closely at retaining talent by providing a more dynamic and professionally rewarding professional environment for their staff,” Mr Waltho said.

Sources of employment for Australian geoscientists
Geoscientist employment in mineral exploration, by company tier

Women are represented almost equally in the geoscience staff of major, mid-tier and junior exploration companies.  The overall proportion of women in the workforce remains low, but large, mid-sized and junior companies don’t appear to either discriminate or be preferred sources of employment.

“Gender diversity in exploration and mining, long-considered to be a male dominated profession in Australia is changing rapidly” Mr Waltho said. “Almost half of the early career geoscientists (0-5 years’ experience) who responded to this latest survey were women,” Mr Waltho said.  “The sector is clearly creating career opportunities for women that are being taken up and we need to ensure that this trend continues through measures to promote and preserve gender diversity,” he said.

 “A drop in the proportion of women in the 5 – 10 year experience range is evident, but the proportion of women in the profession increases again in the 10 – 15 year range, suggesting, perhaps, that we are seeing the benefit of measures such as flexible employment and favourable parental leave provisions that enable geoscientists to mix raising a family with pursuit of a career. “This again, is something we need to build,” Mr Waltho said.  

Gender diversity amongst survey respondents. Women comprised 45% of early career geoscientists responding to the survey – signs of a very welcome trend towards more women taking up geoscience as their career

“The fact that we are seeing evidence pointing to this is a real positive for both the exploration and mining industry and our profession,” Mr Waltho said.

Employment survey snapshot

The latest AIG Australian Geoscientist Employment Survey for the final quarter of 2018, conducted during January 2019, revealed a slight increase in overall unemployment amongst Australian geoscientists and a spike in underemployment amongst self-employed geoscience professionals.

Geoscientist unemployment and underemployment in Australia June 2009 to December 2018

The unemployment rate rose slightly from 8.3% at the end of September to 9.1% at the end of December 2018, while underemployment for the same period increased significantly from 12.9% to 18.5%.

The unemployment rate was the lowest recorded since March 2013 but points to the geoscientist employment situation in Australia remaining somewhat fragile.

Analysis of the survey data is continuing – watch the AIG web site for a complete analysis of the survey results.

Australian geoscience today

AIG’s Australian Geoscientist Employment Survey has been running for almost ten years, regularly collecting data on employment prospects for geoscientists, as well as demographic data that provide insight into how our profession is evolving.

Since the surveys commenced, unemployment amongst Australian geoscientists has been as low as 1.6% in September, 2011, and as high as 19.5% in March 2016. We’ve seen a small fall in the proportion of geoscientists in full-time employment, from 74% in June 2009 to 69% in the September 2018 survey. There has been a similar fall in part-time employment from 4.5% to 3.3% for the same period. Self-employment (geoscientists working as independent contractors and consultants) has risen from 21% in June 2009 to 28% in September 2018.

Where are we today?

In September 2019, 89% of survey respondents were working, or seeking work as a geoscientist in Australia. 7% of respondents were not seeking work, 2% were retired but staying in touch with their former profession, and the remainder of respondents were working or seeking work in fields other than geoscience.

Mineral exploration, metalliferous mining geology and energy resource exploration and production employ 85.4 % of survey respondents, only slightly less than the peak of 87.4 % observed in December 2014.

Geoscientist employment in mineral exploration, mining and energy production in Australia, Jun 2009 to September 2018.
Geoscientist employment in mineral exploration, mining and energy production in Australia, Jun 2009 to September 2018.

This is vastly different to the situation in Europe and the USA, where environmental services, government agencies and academia are the greatest sources of employment for geoscientists. Fields of employment including diamond exploration, engineering geology, industrial minerals production, groundwater resource management, environmental geoscience, government geoscience and other fields are relatively small contributors of employment opportunities.

Employment fields for geoscientists in Australia
Australian geoscientist fields of employment, Sep 2018

More than half of the geoscientists working in Australia are Western Australia based. More than ten percent of Australian-based or educated geoscientists work overseas.

Where Australia's geoscientists work.
Where Australia’s geoscientists work, Sep 2018.

Almost 75% of Australian geoscientists have a Bachelors Degree with Honours (requiring a minimum of four years full time study at most Australian universities). Almost 42% have a Masters degree or PhD. Almost 80% received their highest degree in Australia, while more than 90% earned their highest qualification in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada or the United States of America.

Geoscientist education in Australia
Australian geoscientist education, Sep 2018

Our profession appears to be ageing. Almost one third of Australia’s geoscientists have been involved in the profession for more than 30 years. Assuming a new graduate enters the workforce at 22-23 years of age, 30 years experience points to one third of Australia’s geoscientists being in their mid-fifties. The proportion of young geoscientists, with five or less years of experience stands out in these figures as being low, at less than 6%. This could be due to geoscience failing to attract students, or to early career geoscientists not seeing value in professional association membership. Geoscientists, for example, cannot act as Competent Persons in compliance with the JORC Code until they have at least five years relevant experience. Not being engaged with their peers through professional association membership could simply reduce awareness of surveys like the ones on which this article is based. Should the former proposition be true, however, our profession has a major problem that requires a concerted effort to attract more talented students to geoscience studies and careers.

Our ageing profession.
Our ageing profession.

Diversity was a hot topic in scientific circles throughout 2018. Overall, 85% of Australian geoscientists are men. The ratio of men to women geoscientists varies considerably, however, with years of experience. The greatest proportion of women in geoscience is amongst early career geoscientists, with less than five years experience, followed by mid-career geoscientists with 10 to 15 years experience. The proportion of women entering the profession of just under 30% demonstrates that more needs to be done to attract and retain women by Australian geoscience if greater gender balance is to be achieved. The goal of gender balance in the profession will only be achieved by a sustained effort over several decades.

The proportion of women with an honours degree or higher is 82%, greater than men with 74%.

Gender diversity by years of experience
Gender diversity by years of experience amongst Australian geoscientists (Sep 18)
Gender and education amongst Australian geoscientists, Sep 18.
Gender and education amongst Australian geoscientists, Sep 18.

Participation on different industry sectors varies considerably. Relatively few women work in mineral exploration, leading to greater participation in mining, energy resource exploration and production, government geoscience, engineering geology, industrial minerals and environmental geoscience.

Differences in employment fields between women and men in Australian geoscience

Differences in employment fields between women and men in Australian geoscience

In conclusion, this review of some of the survey results over time yielded a few surprises. Despite the highly cyclical nature of mineral exploration, it remains the dominant form of employment for geoscientists working in Australia. Fields where employment opportunities have grown considerably in the USA and Europe, including groundwater management and environmental geoscience, continue to be only a small part of Australia’s geoscience scene. This is surprising, given pressures on land for development in major cities where remediation of old industrial sites is a major source of land for urban development and the reliance of cities and towns on groundwater for an increasing proportion of their water needs has increased over the past ten years.

Does this raise questions regarding Australia’s focus on environmental stewardship more generally if we are not seeing an increased focus on these fields?

Similarly, engineering geology remains a relatively small sector of the geoscience profession, again against a backdrop of development of more difficult land for housing, industry and commercial uses in our major cities.

The figures can certainly be interpreted to demonstrate the importance of Australia’s resource industries to our economy, with the discovery of new mineral resources and stewardship of existing ones remaining the principal source of demand for geoscience capabilities.

Our profession is arguably making progress towards becoming a more diverse employer in Australia, but gender balance isn’t going to be achieved overnight. Achieving this will require sustained effort over decades, requiring commitment from all sectors of our profession. This occurs alongside an overarching need to ensure talented students are attracted to geoscience careers, which may well prove to be a significant contributor to geoscience in Australia in many ways.

Andrew Waltho

Geoscientist unemployment essentially unchanged

The latest Australian geoscientist employment survey results show little change in unemployment and underemployment amongst Australian geoscientists in Quarter 3 from Quarter 2, 2018.

Geoscientist unemployment in Australia during the third quarter of 2018 was little changed from the previous quarter.  The unemployment rate fell from 8.5% at the end of June to 8.3% at the end of September.  Under-employment amongst self employed geoscientists also fell slightly, from 13.2% to 12.9% for the same period.

Geoscientist unemployment in Australia June 2009 to September 2018
Geoscientist unemployment in Australia June 2009 to September 2018.

Almost half (43%) of respondents reporting that they were under-employed said that they were achieving less than 25% of their desired level of self- employment, pointing to real unemployment and under-employment rates of 13.8% and 7.4% for the September quarter of 2018 respectively.

The survey results are interpreted to reflect anecdotal evidence of continued improvement in geoscientist employment in Australia throughout 2018, but the pace of improvement has been slow. 

“Employment conditions for geoscientists in Australia are showing very welcome, gradual employment but the rate at which this improvement is happening remains slow” AIG spokesperson Andrew Waltho said.  

State by state, unemployment fell in Western Australia and Queensland.  A small increase in unemployment was observed in NSW and the ACT, but significant increases in unemployment were evident in Victoria, where unemployment increased by almost 11%, followed by South Australia at over 9%.

Western Australia and Queensland unemployment June 2009 to Sep 2018
Western Australia and Queensland unemployment June 2009 to Sep 2018

“In the latest survey, 23% of unemployed and underemployed respondents lost employment during the past three months”.  “This was only slightly exceeded by the number of respondents re-entering the workforce” Mr Waltho said.  “A significant number of geoscientists appear to be caught in an employment revolving door” Mr Waltho said.

The proportion of geoscientists employed in mineral exploration during the September quarter increased, from 65.3% to 66.1% during the quarter; the highest contribution proportion of survey respondents engaged in mineral exploration of 66.9% recorded by these surveys in September 2012, suggesting that increased mineral exploration in Australia is making a difference, but at the expense of other fields of practice.  Little change was evident in employment in metalliferous mining and energy resource exploration and production.

The proportion of unemployed and underemployed geoscientists looking to leave their profession fell sharply from 4,2% at the end of June, to 2.6% at the end of September. 

“The decline in geoscientists looking to leave their profession must be seen as a positive sign” Mr Waltho said.  “These results are markedly down from the peak of 11.4% of unemployed and under-employed geoscientists looking to leave their profession recorded in December 2016” Mr Waltho said.

The proportion of geoscientists in full-time employment in the latest survey was 68.6%, well below the peak of 83.9% recorded in June 2014.  Part time employment provided 3.3% of jobs.  Some 28.1% of respondents identified as being self employed; up from 21.9% in the previous quarter and the low of 13.0% recorded in June 2013.  

“We have clearly seen a trend towards engagement of self-employed geoscientists as consultants and contractors by exploration and mining companies over the past four to five years” Mr Waltho said.  “This is reflected in data for employment and unemployment by years of experience, which points to almost half of unemployed geoscientists being the most experienced component of the workforce” Mr Waltho said.  

Geoscientist employment and and unemployment by years of experience.
Geoscientist employment and and unemployment by years of experience.

“Early career geoscientists are also experiencing difficulties getting started in the profession” Mr Waltho said.  “AIG is strongly focused on this issue with AIG’s National Graduate Committee working hard to improve opportunities for early career geoscientists through initiatives that, notably, include the Institute’s extremely successful mentoring programme” Mr Waltho said.

The next survey will open for contributions on 1 January 2019.

The latest Australian geoscientist employment survey is open for contributions – one week to go!

The latest instalment in the Australian geoscientist employment survey series, looking at the September quarter (Juy to September) of 2018, is open for contributions until next Saturday (27 October).  Please take two or three minutes to contribute to the survey this week if you haven’t already done so.  

This survey, available here, will provide data on trends in geoscientist employment in Australia during the third quarter (July to October) of 2018.  In the June quarter, the Australian geoscientists unemployment rate fell to 8.5%.   This was the lowest level of unemployment seen in several years and the survey results indicated that some long term unemployed geoscientists were returning to work.


Australian geoscientist unemployment – June 2009 to June 2018.

Every state, except Queensland, experienced a decrease in unemployment during the June quarter.  The unemployment rate in Queensland increased from 11.3% at the end of March to 12.2% at the end of June.  In Western Australia, unemployment fell from 9.4% to 7.9%.  In South Australia, the unemployment rate fell from 11.1% to 10.3%.

The period covered by this survey is typically one of the busiest times in the Australian exploration field season, which will make the results of this survey especially interesting.

The survey takes only two or three minutes to complete.  You do not need to be an AIG member to contribute.  No data that could personally identify respondents is collected.  Contributions to the survey are required from both employed and unemployed geoscientists to ensure the relevance of results.  Your completing the survey really helps to make a difference to the standing and knowledge of our profession.

The survey will be open for contributions until 27th October.  Every contribution adds to the reliability of the survey results.

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