It will be easier to get a carpenter, plumber or electrician from next year, with the State's prime resources lobby group claiming the mining industry's construction workforce has peaked.

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy's latest biennial report of population trends in the Pilbara coincides with a number of companies shelving projects and axing workers because of volatile commodity prices and forecasts that the huge pipeline of resources investment will weaken from 2014.

Designed to overcome a lack of timely and accurate official data about population in WA's mining epicentre, the CME's report forecasts the mining industry's construction force will peak at 27,300 by the end of next month.

However, consistent with trends that suggest the huge investment boom will be replaced by greater exports from working mines, the Chamber is forecasting that the "operations" workforce, largely made up of skilled engineers, will grow steadily until 2020, when it is expected to be about 51,600.

This represents a 63.3 per cent increase on the current level of about 32,000, which would ensure that in net terms the Pilbara's population would swell to about 73,000 by the end of the decade.

CME chief executive Reg Howard-Smith said while the report gave hope that some of the heat would be taken out of soaring construction costs in the region, he said it would do nothing for other factors making Australia an expensive place to do business.

"Where we are at an international cost disadvantage is, Australia from a taxation, charges and levies point of view, is one of the most expensive places in the world and that is not going to change," he said.

Despite a continued major role for fly-in, fly-out workers the CME's numbers predict faster population growth in the region than the Barnett Government's Pilbara Cities program to develop two major cities in Karratha and Port Hedland.

Mr Howard-Smith said, given this, the Government would need to focus even more on social infrastructure such as schools and hospitals. "If you want people to move away from FIFO, you have to pay more attention to these issues," he said. Other priorities included reducing red tape around innovative cheap housing.

The West Australian

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