Careers in mining not always so golden

I want to get into mining. It’s a statement I still often hear from clients. For many, winning a job in mining is perceived as like winning the lottery – a big salary that can open doors. During the boom, opportunities were more widely available despite still being quite difficult to land. This fever doesn’t appear to have been diminished much by the downturn.

When mining traineeships are advertised, people tend to go crazy – the number of applications submitted for a small number of jobs can be up to 1000. I hear from a broad spectrum of people apparently interested in getting into the mines as mobile plant operators: from labourers and tradespeople and hairdressers and teachers. Across this diverse group, there is a common theme: they are looking for a big pay cheque.

They don’t often want the actual job in the mines – they want the salary that goes with it, and there is a big problem with this.

Working in mining is not easy. Reverse parking a 380 tonne dump truck under a 300 tonne digger is significantly harder than reverse parking a Holden Astra at Big W.

It might be considered “unskilled” work, but operating mining equipment is a huge responsibility. It takes confidence and a particular skill set to be able to master. The people who succeed are the ones with a genuine passion for the work – who live and breathe the industry and the equipment, with a real buzz for operating such huge and powerful machines. To succeed, the pay cheque has to come second to the love for the job. Then you have the living situation.

For many, moving into the mining industry means fly-in, fly-out work – this is not for everyone. I speak to a lot of people with families that are wanting to “make the sacrifice to provide for their family”. This is honestly a really noble approach, however in reality, nobility doesn’t protect your mental health or repair broken relationships as you find yourself spending more of your life away from your family than with them.

This can breed resentment, loneliness, separation issues – and we’ve all seen the reports on mental health issues and suicide rates in FIFO workers. Furthermore, the pay cheque can be a bigger burden than saving grace. People tend to get into debt based on the salary they are earning – it allows them to get the loan for their dream home and to finally purchase that super-powered GT.

However, the mining industry is far from stable and jobs are not as secure as they used to be. Technological development is driving change and the industry is moving away from manned operation towards remote control for cost and safety reasons.

This means an increasing number of people have got themselves into debt to a level that they can’t sustain back home in other industries. Mining might seem like the answer to their prayers, but even if they manage to get into a traineeship, it can be a personal, familial and financial disaster.

This story has an important theme – when looking at your options, consider what you will be doing on a daily basis and whether it is something you would genuinely enjoy.

There is nothing worse than dreading getting up in the morning. Even when the pay cheque is substantial, there really is no price you can put on being there for your children, your spouse and being able to sustain a healthy mental outlook. You also need to consider projected developments in the industry that will define growth and labour stability, as technology is driving change and impacting jobs across the board. There’s a lot more to consider than the salary.

Zoë Wundenberg is the careers writer, counsellor and coach behind local career development provider, Impressability.