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Geoscientist jobless rate soars

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Unemployment amongst Australian geoscientists is at its highest levels since records began.

According to the Australian Institute of Geoscientists, at the end of December last year nearly one in five Australian geoscientists, geologists, and geophysicists working in the industry were unemployed.

In its surveys, which have been carried out since June 2009, it found that a further 14.8% were underemployed.

The combination of the two rates has now exceeded those seen at the height of the global financial crisis.

“A disturbing result from the survey, apart from the level of unemployment itself, is that the under-employment rate actually fell in the three months between September and December 2013, suggesting that even part-time employment opportunities are drying up, resulting in increased unemployment,” AIG stated in the survey.

In the three months between September and December 2013 the largest rise in unemployment was recorded in Western Australia, where the rate increased from 15.2% to 19.6%.

In NSW the rate of unemployment leapt from 7.7% to 13.3%, despite figures leading up to this point actually showing signs of improvement.

Similar trends were recorded in South Australia and Victoria.

However, Queensland bucked the unemployment trend, with numbers staying relatively stable at around 16%, “although this is arguably best described as a bad situation not getting any worse,” the Institute added.

Around a quarter of unemployed and underemployed workers in the industry are now reportedly seeking employment outside of geoscience, with nearly 10% looking to leave the profession permanently.

The majority of the survey respondents (71.7%) work in mineral exploration, followed by 6.5% in hard rock mining, and 6.5% in energy (coal, oil and gas) exploration.  Other respondents are involved in a diverse range of professional fields, encompassing engineering and environmental geoscience, water resource management, industrial minerals exploration and production, government geoscience and teaching.

“The extent of unemployment being experienced by Australian geoscientists defies the strategic importance of the resource industries to Australia’s economy” AIG President, Kaylene Camuti said. 

“Exploration is crucial to the sustainability of our resource industries.

“Cyclicity in geoscience employment has always been a feature of the industry, with exploration activity ebbing and flowing in line with trends in investment, but the extreme cyclicity currently being experienced in Australia is damaging the underlying productivity of our mineral resources industries and contributing to the erosion of Australia’s geoscience skills base.”

She went on to explain that “a mineral discovery now takes between 8 and 13 years to become a new mine that provides employment during construction and operations, both directly and more broadly through a multiplier effect, which is longer than the length between the employment troughs experienced by the sector”. 

“Each time a project is suspended, geological knowledge is lost which has a serious impact on productivity. 

“We also face the prospect of losing years of knowledge and experience if geoscientists leave the profession, posing a serious risk to the sustainability of the Australian resources industry.”

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