Recruiting for the Mining Industry? The Times They Are a Changing

479924165In the past two years, I have seen huge percentage recruiters in the Australian resources/mining (recruiting) space either having left the industry or are close to doing so due to burnout. Staffing firms in this space were built when the construction industry fostered a ‘build it any cost’ type of approach. Now that has finished, and many staffing suppliers have been unable to tighten their belts enough to stay relevant with the much tougher standards and lower prices being demanded by the operating miners left behind. So the small bit of increase in demand we are seeing is to some extent a function of the oversupply of recruiters, having been partly removed.

Looking further out — by about 20 years — we see a very strong production profile from the resources industry, although it won’t be a “find me a person at any price” type of recruitment market. So, fewer recruiters and more production activity means we think (and hope – as we ARE speculating) that for good recruiters this will become a great time to be in business. I sense this also applies to the broader Australian economy and how generalist recruiters work within it.

As specialist recruiters, we need to devote a huge amount of effort now into doing numerous new things to engage with and maintain and build quality relationships with candidate communities using their specific language. End employers won’t and can’t do this to the same extent and so the opportunity is there for the good recruiters to do this properly now, but they have to be doing it right now.

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It’s not easy navigating a mining sector that is throwing people out, not employing them and if they are engaging anyone, it is temps, not full-time staff (other than limited pockets of people with hard-to-find technical skills). At the same time, we’re navigating massive technology changes from outside the recruiting space. So ROI for us right now needs to be a balanced discussion, as the numbers would be so depressing that we wouldn’t do the work to assess and implement new projects. It is a future-thinking thing.

For example, right now we have a support staff to consulting ratio that, while lower than it was two years ago by a fair margin, is still probably high by recruitment industry standards. I’d estimate half of the support staff are dedicated to supporting our operational consultants, with the other half future projects focussed and assessing new technology. So we’re kind of running a traditional (but rapidly changing) recruitment business while simultaneously playing with a sort of business ‘test lab.’

But if you’re a long-term player, this is what you have to do. If you try to only survive today and measure traditional ROI each week, you won’t spend the money on innovation and won’t have a business next year.

Big global recruitment firms know this, but they have the IT departments and a board that will allocate an innovation budget. What does a smaller business do? The answer surely has to be to work harder and pay themselves less for a while and keep trying new things. Our approach is try 10 things and if one works, keep doing it, if two kind of look like they might work, persist for a while. If the other seven clearly don’t work within a short to medium term (and we’re talking weeks/months), then stop doing them and try seven new things. It isn’t very scientific, but we don’t know what will fly or not fly, in this market.

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Steve Heather

Steve Heather
Steve Heather is a qualified mining engineer. He co-founded the Australian based resource industry search recruitment and labor hire business, Mining People International (MPi) after working at senior management inside the mining industry for 17 years. He is also also a director of the Recruitment and Consulting Services Association (RCSA) of Australia and New Zealand.

Steve Heather

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