Although recent unemployment rates for geoscientists have not been encouraging, the industry is being urged to retain them because they are vital to the early stages of sourcing aggregates.
Unemployment rates for geoscientists continued to rise in the 2020 March quarter but fears of a severe impact to the sector from COVID-19 has not yet transpired, according to the Australian Geoscientist Employment Survey.
The survey, which was published by the Australian Institute of Geoscientists (AIG), saw geoscientist unemployment rates increase from 7.3 per cent in the 2019 December quarter to 10 per cent in the March 2020 quarter.
Under-employment for self-employed geoscientists also saw an increase of five per cent, from 13.1 per cent in the 2019 December quarter to 18.1 per cent in the 2020 March quarter.
Despite an increase to unemployment numbers, Australian Institute of Geoscientists president Andrew Waltho said it is encouraging to see employers holding on to their geoscientist staff.
“It is a welcoming sign to see that many employers, so far, have been able to retain geoscientist staff, demonstrating a commitment to both their people and business resilience, especially when the proportion of geoscientists employed by small- to medium-sized companies is considered.
“We have not to date seen anything like the dramatic downturn in employment associated with the global financial crisis in 2009.”
However, long-term unemployment remains a growing issue for the country’s geoscientist workforce, with 29 per cent of survey respondents reporting they have been out of work for more than a year.
On a state level, the March 2020 survey found all states except Queensland saw a significant increase in under-employment. These figures can vary dramatically from state to state due to the different levels of mineral resource exploration and production.
“In one sense, the survey results are re-assuring in the initial impact on employment of the coronavirus being more muted than many geoscience professionals feared,” Waltho said.
“Some of these new ways of working may well outlive the impacts of the pandemic, but ultimately geoscientists, particularly those working in exploration, need safe and effective access to land to deliver results. Returning to a safe and effective means of accessing land will be essential going forward.”
Geoscientist jobs in quarries
Geoscientists are necessary for quarries to understand their resources, according to Cement & Aggregate Consulting principal economic geologist Jackie Gauntlett (MAusIMM).
“If you have a look at the whole value chain in quarrying, everything starts with an understanding of your resource,” he said. “Geoscientists fulfil several other key roles in the industry. Geotechnical experts are required to ensure quarries are designed to minimise chances of rockfalls or slides- and when these do occur, it’s about how to change the design to further mitigate such occurrences so that the quarry can continue to operate safely.
“Hydrogeologists are needed to understand the interaction of surface and ground water with the quarry – this is an important aspect from an operational, safety and environmental perspective.”
According to Gauntlett, quarries are beginning to pursue avenues to increase the values of their resources on-site.
“Quite a few quarries recently have been talking about undertaking drilling campaigns to either expand or to better understand their resource to meet changing market conditions or requirements. Geologists have an important role in planning and managing drilling campaigns, and interpreting the data collected,” he said.
“As cost and revenue pressures increase, quarries are looking at more innovative ways to ensure that they are maximising the value of their resource. Longer term strategic planning based off a robust geological model is leading to greater optimisation of the resource extraction process and adding significant value and life to operations.
“Having a geological model in place and a geologist on call that can assist in these endeavours is obviously a very valuable asset to have.”