UPDATE 1pm: WA’s peak mining lobby group has become the latest voice to suggest the industry’s workforce may have plateaued – a year earlier than it had predicted.
The Chamber of Minerals and Energy had previously forecast some increase in jobs this year, with a report late last year suggesting the workforce would peak in 2014.
But CME chief executive Reg Howard-Smith told an economic forum in Perth today job numbers had “probably plateaued this year”.
“I think our graph did envisage some growth this year, I think it’s probably plateaued this year,” he told the Committee for Economic Development of Australia forum in Perth today.
“There has been some tapering off in overall numbers in the resources sector.”
His comments come amid fierce debate about the extent of the slowdown in WA's economy.
Earlier in the day, the forum heard WA’s economy was not a “one-trick pony” dependent on the mining sector but faced challenges to thrive in the coming decades.
Speakers from industry and the tertiary education sector State needed to improve its productivity, put more money into research and development and get more minority groups into the workforce to ride out the economic cycle.
There were also renewed calls for WA to establish itself as an innovation hub, in the vein of Silicon Valley but in areas where it already had a comparative advantage, such as energy and resources.
Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA chief economist John Nicolaou reiterated his calls for WA to tackle declining productivity, which he described as the biggest challenge facing the State.
He also highlighted the State’s lack of spending on research and development, saying WA would need to spend an extra $1 billion just to achieve the OECD average on research and development as a share of economic output, and the need to build capacity by increasing workforce participation.
“A key part of that puzzle is enhancing our participation levels because we’ve suffered through skills shortages for the better part of a decade,” he said.
“If we had worked harder and found the solutions to enhance participation in under-represented groups such as youth, indigenous, people with disabilities, older age Australians and women then it would create a massive additional pool of labour.”
He said WA was not a one-trick pony, despite its strong reliance on the mining industry.
University of Western Australia vice-chancellor Paul Johnson said the day would come when WA’s minerals were not competitive with cheaper sources elsewhere.
He said the State’s challenge was to find a way of “riding the economic rollercoaster” through the ups and downs of the economic cycle.
Professor Johnson said WA should be attempting to turn itself into an innovation hub in areas where it already had expertise, such as energy and resources.
He said other countries around the world were already trying to establish themselves as innovation hubs by pouring money into tertiary education and scientific research. For example, he said, China has 2700 universities, 13 million students and graduates more than 10,000 science PhDs every year.