No-ties lifestyle a fine response to miner threat

New Wave

By Fran Metcalf    

Adam Koppe is the new face of the mining sector’s emerging workforce.

With the Federal Government’s super profits tax in limbo and billions of dollars worth of projects uncertain, Koppe – and others like him – are opting to become independent contractors.

So says mining sector recruiter, John Cooling who believes Koppe is the start of a new wave of worker in the resources industry.

"An increasing number of young professionals working in mining are turning towards the life of a contractor," says Cooling, founder of SmartWorker recruitment.

"The freedom, variety and rewards a life as a contractor brings are proving to be a drawcard for many young professionals in the sector.

"There is also an increasing demand for overseas placements.

"If activity, particularly new projects, gets curtailed in Australia, our best professionals will look to overseas opportunities to get involved in exciting international projects."

At 35 years of age, Koppe, a Bundaberg-bred information technology consultant, is earning $200,000 a year installing new IT systems for a major nickel mine in New Caledonia.

"You get great variety. You move from project to project and once everything is set up and running, you move on," he says. "And you get to be involved at the interesting stage, setting something up and getting things to work better and you don’t get stuck in the office politics too much."

Project workers like Koppe are in demand across a range of sectors, according to a national survey by Resources Global Professionals.

The survey covered senior consultants who worked on a project basis in accounting and finance, risk management, internal audit, information management and human capital.

"The aftermath of the global financial crisis has created job opportunities for project professionals, with 57 per cent reporting a greater demand for their services in the past year compared to 78 per cent reporting less demand in 2009," says Resources Global Professionals Asia Pacific managing director Jacinta Whelan.

"An ongoing trend towards very lean core teams with a freeze on permanent hires means companies do not have spare capacity when a project need arises, so they bring in consultants as and when they are needed."

While newly elected Prime Minister Julia Gillard reopened negotiations with the resources sector about the super profits tax, a recent Queensland Resources Council member survey found at least $25 billion in new investment, 10,000 construction jobs and 4500 operational jobs were under threat.

But Bond Recruitment consultant Charles Pearce says not all companies are waiting for an outcome on the super profits tax.

"The majority (of my clients) are pushing ahead as planned and are desperate to find key professionals for mines and projects across a range of commodity areas, including coal, gold, iron ore, and other base metals," says Pearce, a mining and resource recruitment specialist.

He says specialist positions, including geologists, mining engineers and ecologists, are in extremely short supply and the industry is already dreading another skills shortage.

Rather than specialising in a mining or resource sector profession, Koppe graduated from the University of Queensland in 2000 with a degree in economics.

After a stint in the Attorney-General’s office case-managing bankruptcy matters, he worked in Ergon Energy’s information technology department before the chance to earn big money lured him into the mining sector.

Vale, the Brazilian company which owns the mine in New Caledonia, provides a large gated community for its employees next to the mine and about an hour’s drive from the country’s capital of Noumea.

"It’s a good community and there’s a number of Australians and New Zealanders, but it’s isolated," Koppe says.

"The food is terrible, but aside from that, it’s pretty good. There’s soccer and touch football and a gym and hundreds of people live there."

Koppe’s accommodation is a donga – a demountable building with a single bed, a cupboard, a television and a bathroom.

"It’s like a caravan," he says.

"There are some people who live this lifestyle for years. For me, I’m just going with the flow.

"It’s the right thing for me at the moment. Down the track, if I want to settle down, then I will do that, but at this stage, it’s what I want to do."

Article from The Courier Mail, July, 2010.

Related articles you might be interested in reading