The latest employment survey by the Australian Institute of Geoscientists (AIG) says unemployment in the sector has doubled in the last six months, supporting anecdotal evidence that exploration activity across the country is slowing.

The report says the downturn in the nation’s mining fortunes during the second half of 2012 had a dire impact on job prospects for geoscientists, compounded by a rise in the number of those unable to secure their preferred professional work levels (underemployment).

The 6.1% unemployment rate announced in the survey is more than double the 2.9% rate in the quarter 2 2012 survey, with the underemployment rate now 7.8% compared to 5.2% at the end of June 2012.

State-by-state results showed Western Australia has the best conditions, with 5.2% unemployment and 4.4% underemployment. In New South Wales, unemployment of 4.2% and underemployment of 13% contrasted with the corresponding figures of 12% and 4.6% respectively for Queensland.

Queensland’s combined unemployment and underemployment rate is the highest across all states, which has been largely credited to the recent downturn in the coking and thermal coal sector in that state. 83% of survey respondents across the coal, coal seam gas and petroleum sectors work in Queensland.

Respondents working primarily in Tasmania and the Northern Territory reported full employment. In Victoria and South Australia, no unemployment was reported but the underemployment rates recorded were 14.3% and 16.7% respectively. These states have relatively small exploration and mining industries.

AIG president Kaylene Camuti says the figures are proof exploration needed to sustain Australia’s mineral resources sector is declining. “Some 67% of survey respondents work in the metalliferous mineral exploration sector. A further 13% of respondents work in metalliferous mining while 7.5% work in energy resource (coal, natural gas and petroleum) exploration and production.

“Almost 65% of unemployed geoscientists lost their positions during quarter 4 of 2012 – a direct reflection of the mining sector downturn. A further 24% lost their positions during quarter 2 2012 and were unable to regain employment during quarter 4. Unemployment was most pronounced among geoscientists with 5 years or less experience (33%) and between 5 and 10 years’ experience (27%).

“While three-quarters of unemployed geoscientists responding to the survey expressed confidence in regaining employment within the next six months, a further 20% were actively seeking long-term employment outside the geoscience profession,” she says.

On a positive note, 5.7% of respondents returned to fulltime employment after a period of unemployment or underemployment. Some 15% of respondents, however, were not confident of retaining their employment for the next three months and only 51% were confident of remaining employed for the next 12 months.

“Unfortunately geoscientists, particularly those employed in resource exploration, appear to very much be the ‘canaries in the coal mine’ by being first to feel the impact of any downturn in resource sector activity,” Kaylene Camuti says.

AIG commenced the survey series in August 2009 and has conducted comparable surveys at regular intervals during that time.

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