Job prospects for professional geoscientists in Australia’s resources sector have slumped to their worst position in four years. As the jobs bite from the downturn in Australia’s exploration and mining sectors showed no sign of slowing during the June quarter, the national rate of underemployment and unemployment amongst Australia’s professional geoscientists increased to a total of 22.%, the highest level since the 2008-2009 Global Financial Crisis (GFC).

It comprises a higher unemployment rate amongst geoscientists of 9.4% while underemployment amongst geoscientists rose to 12.6%. These figures represent a significant increase in the overall underemployment and unemployment rate of 19.2%, made up of an unemployment rate of 7.9% and an underemployment rate of 11.3% at the end of March 2013.

The results are contained in the latest geoscientist employment survey by the Australian Institute of Geoscientists (AIG). The AIG was supported in the survey by kindred professional bodies, including the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM). More than 1100, or one in eight, Australian geoscientists, based on the most recent Australian Census figures, completed the jobs questionnaire.

AIG president Kaylene Camuti says the survey results continue a trend that first became evident in September 2011 and began to accelerate in June 2012 as exploration and mining for both mineral and energy resources in Australia began to decline.

On a state-by-state basis geoscientist unemployment has increased a great deal since 2012 in most states. In Western Australia the unemployment rate was 9.1% in the June quarter, up from 6.8% in the March quarter and 2.7% in the same quarter of 2012. In Queensland it was 7.6% down from 7.9% but up from 2.3% in 2012; in New South Wales it was 9.3%, down from 10% but up from 4.2% in 2012; in Victoria it was 10%, down from 13.6% in March but up from 1.6% in 2012; in South Australia it was 7.4%, up from 3.4% but down from 9.5% last year; in Tasmania it was 33.3%, up from 12.5% in the previous quarter; and in the Northern Territory it was 4.8%.

Under-employment in WA in the June 2013 quarter was 10.1%, up from 9.5% in the March quarter and 1.6% in the same period of 2012; in Queensland it was 12.5%, up from 11.4% and 3.1% respectively; in New South Wales it was 12.2%, down from 13.3% but up from 10% in 2012; in Victoria it was 10%, down from 13.6% but up from 9.4% in 2012; in South Australia it was 13%, up from 6.9% and 5.7%; in Tasmania it was 16.7%, down from 37.5% in the previous quarter; and in the Northern Territory it was 28.5%.

More than 12% of the respondents work as self-employed contractors and consultants while a further 6% work as part-time employees. The underemployment rate measures the proportion of those unable to achieve their desired level of employment.

By industry sector, geoscientists engaged in mineral exploration are experiencing an unemployment rate of 11.6%, while for those engaged in energy resource exploration the unemployment rate is 8.3%. Their counterparts in metalliferous mining and energy resource production are experiencing unemployment rates of 6.6% and 6.5% respectively.  

Kaylene Camuti says the survey results add to a growing body of evidence showing that exploration activity in Australia is continuing to decline rapidly. “This lack of exploration poses significant risks to the resource investment pipeline in Australia.  

“Only a small proportion of all discoveries ultimately become viable, sustainable operations after a number of years of intense geological, engineering, environmental and social impact studies and the marked decline in exploration creates a situation where the resources industry’s future viability is under growing threat.

“Some 54% of survey respondents work in the metalliferous mineral exploration sector. A further 21% of respondents work in metalliferous mining while 11.6 % work in energy resource (coal, natural gas and petroleum) exploration and production. Almost 40% of unemployed survey respondents lost employment during the second quarter of 2013 and 51% since the beginning of the year. Almost 12% of unemployed or underemployed geoscientists had been unable to secure work for more than 12 months.”

Some 11% of unemployed and underemployed geoscientists were actively seeking employment opportunities outside their profession. Some 57% of unemployed and underemployed geoscientists were not confident of regaining employment within the next 12 months. Of those in employment, a quarter of respondents feared that they would lose employment within the next three months.

“The survey results, again, demonstrate that the ability of Australia’s geoscientists to secure employment provides a clear indication of any downturn or improvement in mineral resource industry activity” Kaylene Camuti adds.

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