It’s time for another quarterly snapshot of the geoscientist employment situation in Australia.
This survey will provide data on trends in geoscientist employment in Australia during the second quarter of 2017.
The March 2017 employment survey showed that unemployment and under-employment for geoscientists had fallen in three of the last four quarters – encouraging news after a prolonged downturn. Since then, there has been considerable speculation in the media regarding of an upturn in both exploration and mining, with some talking up employment prospects to the point that fears of a skills shortage were being voiced. This survey will provide a much needed measure of the current situation for geoscientists. Several resources companies have, this year, reintroduced graduate and vacation employment programmes – a very welcome development and, perhaps, a sign that they are seeking to lock in skills for their futures.
At 31st March 2017, the unemployment rate amongst Australian geoscientists was 12.1%, down from 14.4% in the final quarter of 2016.
Thanks to your support, this survey series is becoming increasingly recognised as an important indicator of not only geoscientist employment but the general health of the exploration and mining sectors in Australia. The survey results are reported widely and used to promote and inform others of the health of an industry which is vital to Australia’s economy. Importantly, the data supports advocacy by AIG on the need to improve access to land for responsible, well executed resource exploration throughout Australia. Please support this ongoing initiative by taking a few minutes to complete this latest instalment in the survey series and encouraging your friends and colleagues to do so.
Employment prospects for Australia’s embattled geoscientists improved during the first quarter of 2017 according to the latest Australian Geoscientist Employment Survey conducted by the Australian Institute of Geoscientists during April.
Unemployment amongst geoscientists during the survey period was 12.1%, down from 14.4% in the fourth quarter of 2016. Underemployment (geoscientists unable to secure their desired level of self employment) was 18.3%, down from 19.5% in the previous quarter.
The “real” unemployment rate (unemployed geoscientists and underemployed geoscientists able to achieve less than 25% of their desired workload was 21.7%, down from 24.5% in the final quarter of 2016.
The proportion of geoscientists seeking to leave their profession to seek work fell from 11.4% in the final quarter of 2016 to 7.9% in the latest survey.
An improvement in both unemployment and underemployment has now been evident in three of the past four surveys, supporting anecdotal evidence of a modest upturn in industry activity evident over the past year. The unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2016 was 19.5% and the corresponding underemployment rate was 23.4%.
On a state by state basis, the unemployment rate ranged from 6.9% in New South Wales and the ACT to 14.8% in Queensland. The underemployment rate was lowest in Victoria at 10.7% and highest in South Australia at 28.6%.
Too few responses were received from geoscientists working in the Northern Territory and Tasmania to report state results.
Full-time, part-time and self-employment rates remained similar to those observed in the previous survey, at 77%, 5% and 18% respectively. Some 59% of survey respondents work, or seek work in mineral exploration, 16% in metalliferous mining and 7% in energy resource (coal, oil and gas) exploration and production.
Long-term unemployment remains a real concern. Almost 62% of unemployed and underemployed geoscientists reported that they had been out of work for 12 months or more. 16% of unemployed and underemployed geoscientists had lost their jobs during the quarter. More than 53% were not confident of regaining employment in the next 12 months.
Just over half of the survey respondents currently in employment were confident of retaining their jobs for at least the next 12 months.
The survey attracted a total of 736 responses – more than one in ten geoscientists in Australia.
“After such a prolonged period of bad news on geoscientist employment in Australia, it’s good to have something clearly positive to report” spokesperson for the Institute, Mr Andrew Waltho said. “The decline in unemployment and underemployment that we first saw some signs of in the latter part of 2016 appears to be continuing, reflecting a pick-up in exploration for minerals”.
“This good news, however, is no cause for complacency” Mr Waltho said.
“Geoscientist unemployment in Australia is still roughly three-times that of the Australian workforce in general, which is not good news for both the profession and the exploration and mining industry which accounts for the bulk of geoscientist jobs in Australia”. “They work in an industry which drives a very large piece of Australia’s economy and provides both direct and indirect employment for tens of thousands of Australians” Mr Waltho said. “Current levels of geoscientist employment are better than they were 12 months ago but are only back to mid-2013 levels” Mr Waltho said.
“More than two thirds of Australian geoscientists work in minerals exploration and mining”. The Institute asked geoscientists what they thought were the biggest barriers to greater employment in Australia, to which the overwhelming response was access to land for exploration” Mr Waltho said. “Recent research, published on AIG’s website, shows that the area of each state in Australia under exploration licence has fallen consistently over the past decade”. The most recent global survey of exploration and mining company managers undertaken by Canada’s Fraser Institute paints a varied picture of the attractiveness of policies and regulations governing mining and exploration in each Australian state”. “Western Australia and South Australia were identified as providing desirable conditions for exploration and mining”. “At the same time, one state was ranked lower than Russia as a destination for exploration and mining investment which is simply not good enough” Mr Waltho said. Australia needs to compete globally for investment in new projects”. “We have the skills and expertise to conduct world-leading exploration and mining geoscience but we need to ensure that Australia is seen to be an attractive place to invest, in which equitable access to land for responsibly conducted fieldwork is key”.
“Long term unemployment amongst Australian geoscientists is a real concern”. A majority of unemployed and underemployed geoscientists are striving to secure new employment that still isn’t there, resulting in significant numbers of highly skilled and experienced professionals seeking work outside their chosen field” Mr Waltho said.
The improvement in this survey hopefully provides some encouragement for students who will be entering the geoscience profession over the next few years”. “We are seeing some companies reinvigorate graduate recruitment and development programmes that have been a missing feature in the geoscience arena for a number of years which is also really encouraging” Mr Waltho said. “We need more, both financial and intellectual, investment in Australia’s future to maximize the value of our mineral and human resources” Mr Waltho said.
The improvement in employment prospects for Australia’s geoscientists evident during 2016 came to an end in the final quarter of 2016.
At 31st December 2016, the unemployment rate amongst Australian geoscientists was 14.4% and the under-employment rate was 19.5%, up slightly from 13.9% and 18.8% respectively at the end of September 2016. The unemployment and underemployment rates are, however, lower than those recorded earlier in 2016.
Geoscientist unemployment and under-employment in Australia June 2009 – December 2016
More than half of Australia’s self-employed geoscientists were unable to secure more than one quarter of their desired workload during the quarter, pointing to a real unemployment rate of 24.5%, up slightly from the 24.2% recorded at the end of September 2016.
The data for this latest instalment in the AIG Australian Geoscientist Employment Survey series was collected during February 2017. The survey received 485 responses, down slightly on previous surveys, reflecting the time of year, but still considered to be a reliable sample with an estimated one in ten to one in fifteen geoscientists contributing to the survey.
The employment survey results for different states were again mixed.
The highest combined rate of unemployment and underemployment was again evident in South Australia, followed by New South Wales/ACT and Queensland.
Geoscientist unemployment and underemployment by State
The unemployment situation worsened in South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland, but remained static in Victoria and improved marginally in New South Wales and the ACT. Under-employment increased in every state except Western Australia where a marginal decrease was recorded.
Changes in state unemployment and underemployment during Q4 2016
Long term unemployment and under-employment remained a feature of the survey. More than 56% of unemployed and underemployed geoscientists have been without work for more than 12 months, down by less than 2% from the previous survey. Almost half (49%) of unemployed and under-employed geoscientists said that they were not confident of regaining their desired level of employment within the next 12 months. Almost 34% of unemployed and under-employed geoscientists were seeking employment in another field, with a third of those seeking to leave their profession permanently.
Amongst geoscientists in employment, one in ten returned to work after a period of unemployment or under-employment between September and December 2016.
The breakdown of employment by industry sector differed little from previous surveys. Just over 64% of respondents work, or seek work in mineral exploration. A further 15% work or seek work in metalliferous mining. Some 7% of geoscientists work or seek work in energy resource (coal, natural gas and petroleum) exploration and production.
The survey results were described as disappointing by AIG Council member Andrew Waltho. “Hopefully the survey results reflect a seasonal pause in the gradual recovery of employment opportunities for geoscientists but, equally, the results may show that the recovery being talked about in the Australian resources sector remains fragile”. “The survey results clearly demonstrate that resource exploration in Australia remained flat through to the end of 2016, consistent with exploration expenditure figures reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics at the end of February 2017”. “Improved prices for mineral commodities during 2016 has not translated into increased exploration investment and project pipeline renewal” Mr Waltho said.
“Almost half of Australia’s geoscientists work for mid-tier and junior exploration and mining companies that continue to struggle in an environment where investment is difficult to attract and access to land for any form of exploration continues to be difficult” Mr Waltho said. “The area of each state under exploration title remains considerably lower than in previous years”. “In 2011, for example, 25% of Western Australia was covered by exploration licences”. “In February 2017, this figure was 14%”. “A similar trend is evident in Queensland, with 16% falling to 9% over the same period, and New South Wales, with 26% in 2011 falling to 7.5% today”.
“The Fraser Institute annual survey of mining companies for 2016 saw Western Australia and Queensland featuring in the top 10 most attractive jurisdictions for exploration investment globally, but this isn’t being reflected in actual investment needed to create jobs and sustain one of the most important sectors of the Australian economy”.
AIG asked its members what should be done to catalyse exploration in Australia following the September 2016 survey. Improved access to land for low-impact reconnaissance exploration, the first step in resource discovery, featured prominently in the responses received. “Reduced red-tape associated with securing equitable and considered access to land for exploration would dramatically improve the attractiveness and productivity of exploration investment, contributing to resource discovery” Mr Waltho said.
Employment prospects for Australia’s professional geoscientists continued to improve gradually in the three months between 30th June and 30th September 2016.
The picture emerged in results of the latest quarterly survey by the Australian Institute of Geoscientists (AIG) in which respondents provided information about their employment prospects during the September quarter of 2016.
At 30th September 2016, the unemployment rate amongst Australian geoscientists was 13.9% and the under-employment rate was 18.9% (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Geoscientist unemployment and under-employment in Australia June 2009 – September 2016
The unemployment rate fell 2%, from 15.9% at the end of June and the underemployed rate fell by only 1.3% from 20.2% to 18.9% for the same period. Almost 55% of self-employed geoscientists were unable to secure more than one quarter of their desired workload during the quarter, pointing to a real unemployment rate of 24.2%, down from 27.6% at the end of June.
The employment survey results for different states were again mixed. The highest combined rate of unemployment and underemployment was evident in South Australia, followed by New South Wales/ACT (Figure 2). The low levels of unemployment and underemployment in the Northern Territory reflect a small sample and, potentially, a contraction in exploration and mining activity.
Figure 2. Geoscientist unemployment and underemployment by State
The Northern Territory aside, the greatest decrease in geoscientist unemployment was evident in Queensland, where the unemployment and under-employment rates fell by 5.5% and 3.2% respectively (Figure 3). Queensland and the Northern Territory were the only states in which unemployment and underemployment fell. New South Wales was the only state in which unemployment increased.
Figure 3. Changes in state unemployment and underemployment during Q1 2016
More than 58% of unemployed and underemployed geoscientists have been without work for more than 12 months. Long term unemployment amongst geoscientists continues to be a serious and persistent issue (Figure 5). The proportion of geoscientists who have been unemployed for more than 12 months is essentially unchanged from the previous survey.
Some 48% of unemployed and under-employed geoscientists said that they were not confident of regaining their desired level of employment within the next 12 months.
More than 80% of unemployed and under-employed geoscientists were seeking to return to their profession when circumstances permit, while 5% were looking to leave their profession and seek employment in another field.
Amongst geoscientists currently in employment, more than 88% were confident of retaining employment for more than 12 months and almost 11% returned to full employment in the September quarter following a period of unemployment. More than a quarter of employed respondents reported that their employment conditions had improved during the September quarter, 57% reported no change in employment conditions while almost 17% reported that their employment conditions had declined.
Figure 4. Length of unemployment amongst Australia’s geoscientists
Almost 64% of survey respondents worked, or are seeking work in exploration and mining. A further 14% work in metalliferous mining, and almost five percent in energy resource exploration and production. Almost six percent of Australian geoscientists now work in engineering, environmental and groundwater resource management geology. About 4.5% of Australian geoscientists work in government roles.
For the first time, the survey asked respondents to state their gender. About 84% of respondents were male, 16% female. The unemployment rate amongst female geoscientists was 9.4% and the underemployment rate 15.9% (compared with 13.9% and 18.9% respectively for the profession generally). Figure 5, presenting years of experience for geoscientists in Australia by gender, shows that women are best represented amongst geoscientists with less than 15 years experience.
This trend potentially reflects more women taking up geoscience as a career over the last 15 years than previously.
The lack of geoscientists with 15 to 20 years of experience is interpreted to be an outcome of the downturn in Australia’s exploration and mining industry in the late 1990s-early 2000s, as does the dip in the curves at 25-30 years of experience.
Figure 5 also suggests that Australia’s geoscientists are ageing, with 25% to 30% having 30 years or more experience, who would be in their early to mid-fifties and within 10 to 15 years of retirement. This poses a challenge for the profession in ensuring that skills and experience amassed by more experienced geoscientists are passed on to early career professionals, something which AIG is addressing in a structured and considered manner through an evolving, formal mentoring program in which all members are able to participate as either mentors or mentees.
Figure 5. Australian geoscientist experience by gender
“Two successive quarters of improved employment prospects for geoscientists in Australia is most welcome” said AIG Council member Andrew Waltho. “We haven’t seen that since September 2014 but Australia’s geoscientists are far from out of the woods as far as employment is concerned”. “There has ben growing anecdotal evidence that the situation for geoscientists has been improving as the exploration and mining sectors recover from what has been a prolonged and damaging downturn”. “The impacts of recent commodities prices probably came too late to be reflected in this survey but we will be keenly watching the results of the next survey in December” Mr Waltho said. “These results still show uncertainty in the sector, with decreases in unemployment being matched by increases in under-employment for self-employed geoscientists in most states”. “Any improvement in the employment situation is most welcome” Mr Waltho said.
“Well over 85% of Australian geoscientists work in minerals and energy exploration, mining and production – every metal used by society, coal, natural gas, oil, uranium and a wide range of industrial minerals used in an incredibly broad range of applications from making concrete to production of fertilisers and food processing”. “Australia needs a productive resources sector”. “Geoscientists possess the core skills to make this a reality” Mr Waltho said. “There have been some tangible programs to promote exploration in several states, included initiatives that subsidise drilling to test new concepts and targets, releases of prospective land and the introduction of new mineralogical analysis technologies in core libraries, all of which play a role in attracting exploration investment” Mr Waltho said. “What we haven’t seen, however, is real progress on streamlining both tenement acquisition and relinquishment processes which are key to ensuring investment in mining and exploration is used productively”. “Gaining access to land in a timely manner is critical, particularly for junior explorers who are regarded by many as the “innovation factory” in Australian exploration” Mr Waltho said. “Right or wrong, discoveries are made by testing targets which is what’s sorely needed now”.
The survey received 766 responses (more than one in ten geoscientists in Australia).
The latest Australian Geoscientist Employment Survey is open for contributions until 22 October, 2016. Follow this link to complete the survey.
The June 2016 quarter Australian Geoscientist Employment Survey revealed that employment prospects for geoscientists throughout Australia were potentially showing signs of improvement.
At the end of June, the combined unemployed + underemployed rate was still over 36% – more than one in three geoscience professionals in Australia. Long-term unemployment and under-employment continued to be a burning issue.
There has been considerable, anecdotal evidence that employment prospects for geoscientists in Australia may have improved during the third quarter of 2016. This survey will measure the extent to which has occurred.
Thanks to your support, this survey series is becoming regarded as an important indicator of not only geoscientist employment but the general health of the exploration and mining sectors in Australia. The survey results are reported widely and used to promote and inform others of the health of an industry which is vital to Australia’s economy. Please support this ongoing initiative by taking a few minutes to complete this latest instalment in the survey series and encouraging your friends and colleagues to do so.
You do not need to be an AIG member to participate.
Please note that no data that could personally identify respondents is collected by this survey.
The few minutes of your time spent completing the survey really helps to make a difference to the standing and knowledge of our profession. Again, the survey will remain open for contributions until 22 October 2016. Click here to complete the survey.