Australian minerals sector calls for workplace relations, education reform to build future workforce

Australia’s higher education system should be reformed and outdated workplace relations laws that discourage investment and stifle innovation and efficiency should be fixed to build the future Australian minerals workforce.

The MCA’s submission to the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers Inquiry has outlined a range of reforms to attract and retain the highly-skilled workers to maintain Australia’s strong comparative advantage in minerals, which creates high-wage jobs and underpins the nation’s largest export earner.

Australia’s minerals industry and the broader mining equipment, technology and services sector employ 1.1 million people, or 10 per cent of the Australian workforce.

With innovative technology such as automation, drones, robotics and artificial intelligence changing the face of the modern mining sector, the future success of the minerals industry will depend on highly skilled and technologically-literate experts including operators, engineers, environmental scientists and geologists.

Australia’s minerals industry is a world leader in innovation and developing and adopting transformative technology from commercialising froth flotation for minerals recovery in the 1860s in Broken Hill to introducing remote control iron ore trucks in Pilbara in the 2000s.

The mining sector spends nearly $3 billion on research and development every year – or nearly $1 in every $6 of business R&D spending in Australia – and accounts for the largest industry share of high-growth micro start-up businesses.

In a survey of MCA member companies, 70 per cent of respondents cited R&D and adoption of new technologies as important or very important to achieving future improvements in productivity. Yet it will be difficult for the sector to find the highly-skilled workers it needs to take advantage of new technology and innovation without action by government.

The submission outlines reforms that will help build the future workforce including:

Reforming the education system as recommended by the Productivity Commission to support skills formation linked to an open, high-quality education system to prepare people with the right skills for technology adoption, use and diffusion
Stronger accountability mechanisms to ensure increased university fee revenue is devoted to teaching and student services
Modernising the workplace by confining permitted content in enterprise agreements to direct employment matters, reforming greenfields agreements to encourage investment in new projects and rebalancing rigid union right-of-entry provisions which allow for undue interference and disruption.

MCA members have invested more than $50 million across 17 universities in the last decade in collaborative programs to ensure a high-quality supply of Australian graduates. This includes the creation of a national portal for high-quality teaching materials on minerals to help address the alarming decline in STEM participation in Australian schools over the last decade.

Australia’s higher education sector together with modernised workplace relations will play a vital role in ensuring the future workforce is equipped with the necessary skills for the mining jobs of the future.

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