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An exploration of labour mobility in mining and construction: who moves and why

By Georgina Atkinson, Jo Hargreaves Research report 23 June 2014 ISBN 978 1 922056 80 1


Labour mobility is a complex concept because people change jobs for a variety of reasons, in different ways and with different outcomes for their lives and careers. This study explores what motivates people to change jobs and examines the influence of their employer, occupation or industry, and investigates their geographic mobility on either a permanent or temporary basis.

The project also explores the extent to which qualifications or licensing requirements represent a barrier for workers considering mobility, particularly in the mining and construction industries. Combining a broad literature review with a small qualitative analysis capturing the views of employers, labour hire and recruitment firms, this study reflects the diverse range of factors affecting the supply and demand for skills.

The study finds that the majority of labour mobility decisions are driven by the personal priorities of the individual, including family commitments. 


About the research

Labour mobility is one of the core elements of a well-functioning labour market and is a relatively common phenomenon in Australia. The Australian economy, during its various cycles, often experiences both labour and skills shortages. This study reinforces that labour mobility itself is linked to those cycles, in that in a slow labour market a person may move for stable employment, while in a buoyant economy employers use incentives to influence mobility. With the Australian mining industry now experiencing a downturn after a very strong peak, it is imperative that more is understood about what encourages or impedes mobility.

This research synthesises existing literature on labour mobility in order to better understand who moves and why. A qualitative analysis completes the study by capturing the views of labour hire and recruitment firms as well as employers and others with a direct interest in recruitment and workforce planning in both the mining and construction industries.

Key messages

  • Around 10% of workers change their job each year. Of those who change jobs, only 5% move considerable distances (for example, interstate). Around 2% of workers commute long distances.
  • The majority of labour mobility decisions are driven by the personal priorities of the individual, including family commitments.
  • When the labour market is buoyant, competition for workers is high and poaching is common. This can lead to cycling through the same group of workers and an increase in the temporary movement of workers, especially those who have the desired skills and experience.
  • Sudden fluctuations in growth require a rapid response to labour recruitment by industry. If this is coupled with a strong preference from employers to hire individuals with specific levels of experience, then contradictions arise.
  • In relation to fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers, individuals are often attracted by high salaries and new opportunities, but may struggle to find employment due to strict entry requirements (including experience levels and regulatory and licensing requirements). 
  • Solutions to filling skill and labour shortages may be best addressed through a combination of a broader search radius, a more flexible approach to relevant experience, engagement with apprenticeship programs and collaborative programs/activities with education providers to produce work-ready graduates.

Rod Camm
Managing Director, NCVER


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