A MAJOR demographic change is sweeping Queensland’s Surat Basin.
The towns in the region, such as Dalby (population 9800), Roma (8000), Chinchilla (3700), Miles (1200) and Injune (370), along with the far bigger Toowoomba (131,000), are poised to grow, fueled by energy and resources projects involving unprecedented investments and workforce movements.
Skills Queensland, in its report Surat Basin: Workforce Development Plan, estimates new projects in coal-seam gas (CSG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) will bring $30 billion in investments to develop export markets over the next 20 years.
“While the Surat Basin has traditionally been known for its agricultural production, significant reserves of coal and coal-seam gas have created a new energy and resources industry in the region,” the report says. “Over the coming years, the new CSG/LNG industry is expected to impact on the region and become one of the top five sectors of employment.”
The population in the region will grow from 209,000 last year to 301,000 in 2031, registering an increase of about 43 per cent, Queensland government projections show. The workforce in the Surat Basin will increase from about 85,000 in 2009 to 110,800 in 2016 and 158,000 in 2031.
“In part, this strong projected employment growth reflects significant mining, resources and construction work identified for the area, with the fastest-growing workforce being for the CSG/LNG industry,” the Skills Queensland report says.
Unlike in Western Australia, where resources-driven projects have given rise to the phenomenon of workers’ camps, the development in the Surat Basin is likely to lead to the transformation of small towns to larger communities, with the accompanying all-round growth in professional services that will contribute to an attractive lifestyle.
“The difference between the Surat Basin and other (resources-driven) regions is Surat already has active communities,” says Skills Queensland chief executive Rod Camm. “It is about building around that.”
Through “engagement, marketing and communication”, the stakeholders in the region’s development, including the local government councils and the companies involved in exploration and resources export industries, intend to highlight the liveability aspect of the communities.
“There is a saying out there, which is ‘Come for the job, stay for the lifestyle’,” says Skills Queensland general manager Neil Miller. “You don’t have liveable communities without the full range of occupations.”
Labour demand will be felt across a wide range of industries.
“Top occupations to be sourced for the key industries to 2016 include construction, distribution and production managers (130 extra workers each year); school teachers (120 additional workers each year); midwifery and nursing professionals (100 additional workers each year),” the Skills Queensland report says.
The forecast is for strong demand for energy and resources-related professionals such as drillers, miners, shot firers, truck drivers, earthmovers, trades workers; metal fitters and machinists in manufacturing; plant, equipment and machine operators, mechanical and electrical trade workers in construction; chefs (whose numbers will increase from 600 in 2006 to 1400 in 2031) and registered nurses. The Surat Basin, which already has low unemployment relative to the state (3.7 per cent in the region compared with 5.5 per cent in Queensland in 2010) is likely to experience the effects of strong competition for labour from elsewhere in the nation.
“It is expected that the Surat Basin will need to draw its potential labour supply from within the region, and from other regions, interstate and overseas to meet its needs for a highly skilled workforce,” the Skills Queensland report says.
“Businesses in the Surat Basin are experiencing recruitment difficulties, particularly because applicants lack the required skills and experience, or there are generally too few applicants.”
The task of acquiring the needed labour force faces major challenges, including an aging population, the tendency among those losing jobs to leave the region, school leavers seeking jobs or higher education outside the area and the low proportion of residents with post-school qualifications.
Camm believes new training models need to be adopted in order to fast-track the work readiness of those available to work.
“The slowdown in the resources sector combined with the slowdown in the housing sector will offer a tiny bit of breathing space to put the new training models in place,” he says.
Compelling facts on a growth area
THE Surat Basin comprises the local government areas of Toowoomba, Maranoa and Western Downs. Its population in 2009 was 203,790. This is expected to grow to 301,900 in 2031.
The total workforce in the region is set to grow from 85,791 in 2009 to 110,800 in 2016 and 158,000 in 2031, according to Skills Queensland’s report outlining workforce development plan for the region.
The region has one of our largest energy resources, with an estimated 20 per cent of Queensland’s coal reserves and 65 per cent of the state’s gas reserves.
The fastest-growing workforce will be the CSG-LNG industry, albeit coming off a low base.
Other growth areas in the next four years will be construction (7.6 per cent a year); electricity, gas, water and waste services (5.6 per cent); professional, scientific and technical services (6.2 per cent); and rental, hiring and real estate services (5.3 per cent).
The Surat Basin has unemployment levels of about 2 per cent. This includes Toowoomba’s unemployment of 4.2 per cent.
The Surat Basin labour force is likely to grow by 3.7 per cent a year over five years, requiring about 3600 new positions a year, says Skills Queensland.
Agriculture industry, a major employer in the region, will remain stable, economic projections to 2031 show.
Oil and gas sector workforce will increase from 290 in 2009 to 1400 in 2016 and 3000 in 2031. Coal mining employment will grow by 9.9 per cent annually over two decades.
“The Australian” October 02, 2012 12:01AM