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When did we become the stupid country?

By Naomi Anderson - posted Thursday, 31 May 2012

There are many political moments when I would like to comment, but feel insufficiently knowledgeable about the specifics of the mater at hand. The proposed import of 1700 skilled workers is not one such topic.

I have worked in human resources for 15 years, and specifically in the area of global mobility, for much of that time. It is common for large companies to need to move people around the globe to bring skills to a specific location. The two most common reasons are technical skills and company knowledge.

"Technical skills" is an argument only for the most specialised professionals. In very few cases is it impossible to find someone with the skill set required. Generally it is possible to find them within a few hundred kilometres, or within the country, unless the skill set is so specialised that there are very few such professionals in the world. In that case it is a matter of competing with other employers who also wish to utilise those skills. Such individuals earn upwards of $200,000 per annum.


It is highly unlikely that a mining operation needs 1700 of them. 17, or even 170, possibly. But 1700 seems a very high number.

The second category is company knowledge. The people who have been trained in the systems, processes and methodologies are necessary to do the job. These people are also highly paid, but are not freely available at market. They are transferred within the company, from location to location, because they know what makes the company tick.

The proposal to bring in 1700 migrant workers is not about this either.

Nor is it about the country of origin of the workers, or "preservation of Australian jobs". We live in a global economy where I can choose to pay 15c less for a certain brand of canned tomatoes and expect to be free to do so.

The issue at hand is a systemic failure by a number of parties, and their desire to dust this over and pretend it never happened.

Firstly, any business that knows what it is doing understands the concept of workforce planning. What are the skills we will need in the future, and how do we ensure we have access to them? Successful companies have engaged in training programs, partnerships with educational institutions, engagement with local community groups to ensure that they are able to access the workers they need in the future. This is basic business management. Without the people you need to do the work that needs to be done, you can not survive.


So I am confused as to how it is that the mining sector has a sudden unmet need for 1700 employees that can not be found in Australia. It is not like mining is a new and cutting edge enterprise. Nor is it true that we have not been told that mining is the economic base for this country. Surely if there were skills gaps in the future workforce, a competent business would have approached the government with a request for support years ago? Would they not have sought to ensure that the skills they need were being developed close to home, and by people with a vested and long term interest in the industry?

Apparently not. Apparently, as the saying goes, their lack of planning is our emergency.

Then there are the millions of dollars poured into employment agencies to assist the long term unemployed into work. What exactly have they been doing all this time? There is a mining boom, we have known this for years, and there are workers needed, and yet they can not find enough people to fit the bill? Does that mean they have nobody left on their books and are going out of business because we have reached 100% employment? Apparently not.

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About the Author

Naomi Anderson has worked in the human resources field for over fifteen years, and is the parent of a person with a disability. Passionate about creating positive change in areas of human rights and disability, she is the founder of

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