W Australia on Irish recruitment drive

Monday 11 July 2011 18.36
Fremantle - Port city in Western Australia
Fremantle - Port city in Western Australia

Chronic labour shortages in resource-rich Western Australia could put mining projects at risk, as the state struggles to plug a shortfall of skilled workers set to balloon to 150,000 by 2017.

Western Australia's minister for training and workforce development, Peter Collier, has started an eight-day drive in Britain and Ireland to promote job opportunities in Western Australia.

Skilled workers, from restaurant managers to mining engineers, hoping to escape straightened circumstances at home are being targeted.

Major projects under consideration or already underway in Western Australia include expansions of BHP Billiton's and Rio Tinto's Western Australian iron ore operations.

Collier called for a more flexible approach to Australia's visa system from central government, including cutting red tape for areas in dire need of workers.

Workers from Britain and Ireland, following an old tradition of migrants who were among Australia's first settlers, currently account for almost a third of the migrant population.

The resources industry, riding a wave of high commodity prices, has roughly $400bn in new projects on the drawing board in Australia and, along with the construction industry, will need an additional 260,000 workers over the next five years, according to government estimates.

Western Australia alone has more than $225bn of resource and infrastructure projects planned, the state said, roughly half of that in mining, mostly in iron ore, and the remaining slice in natural gas.

But the region, which makes up a third of the Australian land mass, is home to only 10% of its population.

The population shortage means that it is short of the workers it needs to feed the resources industry and to replace an ageing mining and construction workforce and to mention cater for other sectors growing alongside, from restaurants and hotels to hospitals and schools.

Collier, armed with glossy DVD footage of Western Australia's white beaches and glowing testimonials from happy migrants has said the work he and his delegation will do this week may focus on skilled workers, but the region also needs unskilled and semi-skilled workers, like apprentices.

Western Australia's government has set up a 'skilled migration portal' for future migrants, with details on job prospects, rents and salaries.