13 Jul 2013

Farmers tired of training workers who go to the mining industry

7:52 am on 13 July 2013

Australian farmers say they are sick and tired of investing time and money training skilled labourers only to lose them to the mining industry.

The ABC reports the unprecedented growth of the coal industry has created an enormous demand for skilled labour, and farmers are losing out.

The Australia Institute in Canberra says coal production is tipped to double over the next decade.

It predicts this growth will have the unintended consequence of workers being gouged from other sectors - particularly those already employed in rural and regional areas.

"We recently studied the anticipated economic impact of the Waratah Coal China First project in Queensland and found that it would likely cost 3000 jobs in agriculture, manufacturing and tourism," said Mark Ogge of the institute.

He said part of the problem is that state governments have approved a massive expansion of mining and other resource projects in a relatively short space of time.

"Most countries overseas tend to put more planning into the approval process and stagger the projects out so they don't have such a disruptive influence on other parts of the job market," he said.

Northern New South Wales farmer Ian Carter says his operation is effectively a training ground for the mining industry.

The ABC reports it takes at least six months to get new farm workers up to speed.

"Forget the old hayseed stuff, farming's quite technical these days," Mr Carter said.

"All our tractors are auto-steer, guided by GPS, all the implements they pull are computer-controlled, and we yield-map our crops during harvest."

The Carter property at Connemara, at Quirindi, is among the most efficient in the country for growing crops on its 2500 hectares- a mix of oilseeds, cereals, legumes and cotton.

While it can cope with the vagaries of the weather and commodity prices, it says losing trained staff to the mining industry is a setback few small businesses can continually absorb.

"They all say when they leave (that) they love working here and they really learnt a lot, and I say "Gee whiz, I know you learned a lot - we spent a lot of time teaching you a lot and now you are using those skills to go and get a job somewhere else," Mr Carter said.

The ABC reports the Carter family is not alone.

Other industries also having problems

Michael Broekman, the head of one of Namoi Valley Bricks, says it is difficult to compete with the salaries offered by mining companies.

"Traditionally companies like ours in rural centres needed to have cheaper manufacturing costs - cheaper wages, cheaper housing and cheaper living standards - to offset the cost of getting our products to market," he said.

"But mining companies out-compete us for labour now and we need to look at alternatives such as mechanising some of the work previously done by younger, less experienced employees."

"That will obviously affect our ability to bring the youth of our community to a work standard that makes them ready to move on to bigger and better things. So without small manufacturers like us, that part of the employment cycle will be broken."

Farm machinery dealers also have labour problems.

Cornishsgroup sales manager Jason Woods said the company's service division struggles to retain third and fourth-year apprentices because of big offers from the mines.

"To train one of these guys you are looking at six figure numbers ... probably $A250,000 for the four years and you really need to get a return on that the following two or three years to get that money back," he said.

He said some of the other dealers have just taken the view that they will no longer put on apprentices for that reason because they cannot keep absorbing that cost.

"When it comes to the money offered by the mines - we just simply can't match them," he said.