Australians tend to study in their home towns if possible but trends show they must be willing to relocate for work.
Australians tend to study in their home towns if possible but trends show they must be willing to relocate for work. Allan Reinikka

Strength lies in flexibility

DEPENDING on who you talk to, mobility and flexibility are either one of our labour force's biggest assets, or a major weakness.

Earlier this year, BHP Billiton boss Marius Kloppers said that in his experience, Australians were less likely to relocate for work when compared to their counterparts in the US and Canada.

"My personal observation would be that particularly on the east coast, people tend to study in their own hometowns and that sort of sets the basis for 'I'm going live where I grew up'," Mr Kloppers said.

"Certainly, I think that if I compare it to the US or Canada, it feels to me that it's a bit more difficult to move people around here."

Mr Kloppers said the biggest challenge facing the company and mining sector as a whole was labour mobility.

"Labour mobility is probably, long term, as important as labour productivity," he said.

Yet more recently, the Reserve Bank said it was labour flexibility that had been key to Australia's economy handling the significant structural changes brought about by the mining sector boom.

RBA Deputy Governor Philip Lowe said the flexibility must be maintained as the sector moves into a new phase, one focussed more on continuing operations than constructing new projects.

Mr Lowe told a conference in Hobart that Australians should remain positive about the future of the mining industry, and should look to the increasing opportunities being created on the back of economic growth in Asia.

"Over recent years we have seen these (opportunities) in the resources sector," he said.

"But in coming years we are likely to see them more clearly in a wide range of other areas.

"Our flexible, adaptive and well-trained workforce will be the key to taking advantage of these opportunities."

According to Mr Lowe, since 2007, about 300,000 jobs had been created in health care, 200,000 in professional and scientific services and about 130,000 each in the mining and education sectors.

The shift in available jobs had encouraged more workers to become fly in-fly out or drive in-drive out employees, with about 50,000 people now in this category. The changes also had affected wage differences with mining workers enjoying significant increases while manufacturing, retail and accommodation workers lost ground.

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