16 August 2012

Australian economic success creates new demand for skilled workers

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Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Bill Shorten says Australia needs workers, with one of the only developed countries in the world to maintain a healthy economy, it's not hard to see why, but it might not be in the places you expect.

Australia immigration

Employment Minister Bill Shorten praised the mining industry for its much-publicised job creation but highlighted the influence of another industry on the abundance of opportunity in Australia.

While much of the rest of the world, particularly the West, languished in economic mire, two economies stood as an exception to the rule: China and Australia.

Chinese charge

China's rapid development and massive population have produced economic growth rarely if ever seen before on the world stage but to maintain its growth it needed resources, and this is where Australia was on hand.

Australia is home to some of the world's largest sources of many of the most valuable minerals and resources including iron ore, nickel, copper, gold, silver, uranium and coal, and with its close proximity to the Asian giant, China has heavily relied on Australia to continue its construction and development.


In turn this has created one of the largest mining operations in the world with many multi-billion dollar projects based mainly in Western Australia. Indeed, such is the scale of the operation that mining magnate Gina Rinehart has catapulted to the top of the list of the world's richest women off the back of the mining boom, with many estimates predicting her to surpass Mexican telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim as the richest person in the world within the next few years.

Minister Shorten says the mining boom has created as many as 130,000 jobs since 2007 and, with many of these offering highly paid opportunities, gives cause to make Australia proud.

"I am proud of the accomplishments of our mining industry and the productive efforts of the men and women who work in it," wrote the Minister in an article for the Herald Sun.

"Modern mining is not just a matter of picks and shovels, head lamps and dump trucks - it is a sophisticated, technologically advanced industry employing the best and brightest miners, machine operators, engineers, scientists, camp staff, shot firers, dragline operators and trades people."


With the majority of the mining and resources boom centred in the relatively sparsely populated region of Western Australia, many Australians have chosen to remain in the cities of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, meaning to find the labour they need, mining companies have turned to immigration to source their labour.

The federal government has recently approved the use of an Enterprise Migration Agreement (EMA) for one Western Australian mining project and confirmed the intended use of several more.

An EMA allows mining companies to import large numbers of foreign workers for their projects as long as conditions are met which ensure Australian workers are trained and local labour is prioritised.

The EMA issue is controversial but ensures that Australia will be able to sustain itself in the future with domestic sources of labour and keep the already low levels of unemployment down.

Secret success

However, while the mining and construction boom takes all the plaudits for a thriving economy, low unemployment and the envy of the Western world, Minister Shorten says its success is dwarfed by another industry:

"If we were handing out gold medals for which industry created the most jobs, mining would stand on the dais with a silver medal around its neck, having been beaten handsomely by the winner.

"Our gold medallist in jobs creation in the last four years, a very quiet achiever indeed, has been Australia's healthcare and social services sector which has added over 260,000 jobs to the Australian economy since November 2007."

The minister says more than one in 10 of the entire Australian workforce is employed in this industry and while the mining boom is expected to slow over time in line with the Chinese economy's stabilisation and the economic recovery of the rest of the world, the healthcare and social services sector is only predicted to grow:

"With our ageing and growing population and consequently booming demand for childcare, community and home-based care services, we can expect this trend to continue; with projections indicating more than 240,000 additional jobs will be created in the health and aged-care sector in the next five years."

With such a sparsely populated, expansive country - 70% the size of Europe with just 3% of the population - opportunity in Australia has rarely been scarce; a fact that has traditionally been common knowledge, particularly in Britain with its strong ties to Australia.

However, while the mining boom makes headlines both in Australia and around the world, Minister Shorten says it does not do justice to explaining Australia's success.

"Mining will continue to capture the headlines - and rightly so - but I should acknowledge the quiet achievers in our services sector, which are doing so much to contribute to Australia's truly remarkable economic story."

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