Australia's Mother Lode of Mining Jobs

"Of course, there is a very real danger you could be killed."

Astonishing fact: Australia's coking coal exports to China increased 1,000% between 2008 and 2009. Asian demand for iron ore, oil and gas, uranium, and other minerals from Down Under has surged too. The states of Queensland and Western Australia, dotted with remote mining towns, are booming as a result. Chartered planes fly in and out of Perth every day, ferrying mineworkers by the thousands to these locations, where they work two weeks on, two weeks off.

Perth is expanding its airport just to accommodate the mining companies, which are hiring at a record clip. If demand stays strong—a big if, given the boom and bust cycles of commodities businesses—then Australia's mines will need another 86,000 workers in the next decade, the government figures.

Average mining wages have risen 60% since 2004, says local recruiter Konrad Forrest, to almost $2,000 U.S. dollars a week, better than the average pay in Australia's flourishing financial services industry. In some cases mining wages have doubled in six years, adds Forrest. Because of the two-week rotation, explains Adrian Morris, a mining electrician with 25 years' experience, some miners "actually only work 22 weeks a year for $100,000" ($93,000 U.S.). Of course, adds Morris, "you are actually putting up with a lot of crap, and there is a very real danger you could be killed."

Electricians—the Aussies call them "sparkies"—are the blue-collar workers most in demand in the mines. According to the Hays Resources & Mining Salary Guide and mysalary.com, electricians in the Western Australia mines made between $83,000 and $120,000 (U.S.) in 2009. In contrast, mining electricians in the U.S. made $49,000 to $59,000 in 2008, the latest figures available. A boilermaker—who repairs and installs equipment—made up to $111,000 in Australia. His equivalent in the U.S. made up to $51,000. Similar pay gaps favor Australian mining managers in unskilled workers.

The bottom line: The mining sector's boom soaks up workers. It also has Australia's central bank worried about inflation.

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