Australian mining companies are hoping to pluck skilled workers from refugee camps under a humanitarian program that could help fill a skills vacuum.
It is understood about 40 refugees have been identified as potential mining industry recruits. The search was conducted by firms which specialise in combing refugee camps for people who have hard-to-find skills that Australian miners cannot source locally.
Talent Beyond Boundaries and Refugee Talent are facilitating interviews with prospects and will help shepherd the workers through Australia’s immigration system.
It is understood that Australian miners view the move as a humanitarian initiative rather than a solution to a skills shortage that industry says is being compounded by a notoriously complex and inflexible new skilled migration system.
The abolition of the 457 visa last year and a cut in the number of occupations on the skilled migration list has closed the door to recruiting many overseas workers.
The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies said the worker shortage was particularly acute in exploratory drilling, where the industry anticipated a national shortage of 450 staff this year, representing about 20 per cent below capacity.
“We’ve been pushing for the past 12 months to get the Federal Government to get mineral exploration driller back on the skilled migration list so we can bring people into the country because we can’t find people to fill those roles in Australia,” AMEC chief executive Warren Pearce said.
The Government has set up Designated Area Migration Agreements to ease labour shortages in regional areas and encourage migrants to settle outside major cities, but Mr Pearce said they were complicated to access and it was difficult to assess how effective they would be.
WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy chief executive Paul Everingham told an iron ore conference in Perth last month the new notoriously complex skilled migration regime had given the global skilled labour market a clear view that Australia did not want to attract the best talent.
“One visa category, which used to exist 10 years ago, is now about 10 different visa categories and it’s getting more and more complex, almost by the week,” he said.
Mr Everingham warned the new regime was set to exacerbate a looming skills shortage in the WA mining sector as the construction of several new iron ore projects ramped up.
A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister David Coleman said Labor’s former 457 visa system had been “out of control” and needed to be reformed.