[Mining Sector] Labour-short Oz poaching Canucks – by Michael Madigan (Winnipeg Free Press – May 20, 2011)

Michael Madigan is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in Australia. He writes about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.

They’ve ravaged Calgary and pillaged Edmonton, and Canadians can be sure to see a whole lot more of them in the years ahead. Australian mining companies are turning corporate Vikings as they grow increasingly desperate for what has become a rare and precious resource — skilled labour.

That Canadian mining companies also resemble Norse seafarers in their own desperation to feed the insatiable appetite of Canada’s resource sector doesn’t faze the Australians.

The Australian organizer of a recent jobs fair in Canada, Rupert Merrick, says the globe’s booming energy sector is crying out for skilled workers, and all is fair in love and war.

The accusation that he is poaching Canadians can easily be dismissed. There are now are an estimated 2,500 Australians working in Alberta’s oil and gas sector.

Australia’s ABC Radio reports that the jobs fair has attracted 1,600 people in Calgary and expects the same in Edmonton while the free market does its work ensuring potential workers are offered exceptional deals to come Down Under.

One Canadian woman who went to the fair said an Aussie company offered to help pay for her remaining education as well as guarantee her a job afterwards.

That unskilled workers can earn $100,000 a year in the mining industry is no longer news in Australia.

What is news is that the nation is confronting what could be a financially crippling drought of people prepared to take up the offer of the six-figure salary.

Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan made job training and importation of skilled migrants a cornerstone of his budget earlier this month.

Swan warned that our inability to keep pace with global demand for our resources could rob us of a historical opportunity to accumulate national wealth.

The treasurer also had a warning for the nation’s indolent that the holiday was coming to a close, announcing new measures to get the long-term unemployed back in harness.

With unemployment hovering at four per cent, there were few reasons why the able-bodied should not be chipping in, he told parliament.

“Unemployment has a four in front of it, yet some households have never had a breadwinner,” Swan said. “The economy cries out for workers, yet too many are left behind, unwilling or unskilled — and untouched by the dignity of work.

“In a growing economy like ours, we cannot justify the fourth-highest proportion of jobless families in the developed world.”

At the heart of his budget was a $558-million national workforce development fund that will deliver 130,000 new training places over four years.

Included was a $101-million national mentoring program to help 40,000 apprentices finish training, as well as an accelerated apprenticeships program.

For the first time, Australia will allocate 16,000 skilled migration places to the nation’s regional areas.

One of the country’s most respected economic commentators, Chris Richardson from Deloitte Access Economics, fears it may be too little, too late.

Australia’s large annual intake of migrants has been a political hot potato for many years but recently it has fallen away.

It peaked at 320,000 in late 2008 but fell to 185,800 in the year ending in September.

Meanwhile, the rising tide of baby boomers packing up their desks or putting down their spanners is rising rapidly as a generation enters its sunset years with too few behind them to take up the slack.

Richardson says Australia’s economy is crying out for workers while countries such as India and China are crying out for our resources.

The consequences of not getting people into jobs are dire.

“You’ve got the treasurer talking about 500,000 jobs in the next two years. We think it could be even more than that,” Richardson said recently. “Unless we feed people into that boom it doesn’t become a boom, it ends up as higher inflation and higher interest rates.”

The problem will only worsen as the rollout of Australian liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Queensland continues along with a host of other projects now “shovel-ready.”

Queensland-based multimillionaire Clive Palmer has plans for an $8-billion coal development in the Galilee Basin of central Queensland and is looking to China for up to 10 per cent of his workforce.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Winnipeg Free Press website: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/columnists/labour-short-oz-poaching-canucks-122291408.html

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