Australia's resources minister says the mining sector has a "major problem" attracting and retaining talent

Sydney (AFP) - Australia’s world-beating mining firms are flush with cash and desperate for staff but green-minded workers are shunning the high-paying sector, causing serious staff shortages, the government warned Wednesday.

Australia’s Resources Minister Madeleine King – who oversees the more than US$200 billion-a-year industry – said the mining sector was “stretched” and badly needs to reform and shake its sooty image.

“There is a major problem in attracting and retaining skilled workers,” she told business people in mineral-rich Western Australia.

“A big barrier to attracting these workers is the attitude many young Australians hold towards the resources industry.”

Despite miners paying far more than comparable sectors, King said enrolments in relevant degrees were “dwindling”.

Australia is the world's largest exporter of iron ore

She urged the likes of Rio Tinto and BHP to “get more creative” in attracting young people, suggesting the industry turn “Minecraft-crazed kids” into the real-life miners of tomorrow.

A failure to attract new talent could risk an industry that, she said, “underpins our enviable standard of living”.

Heaving iron ore, coal and other mineral goodies out of the Earth’s lithosphere has been the mainstay of Australia’s economy for decades, helping to avoid numerous crises and recessions.

The country is the world’s largest exporter of iron ore – the main component in steel – and ships out vast amounts of coal, gas, lithium, gold, zinc, diamonds and other resources.

But this year the Australian Resources and Energy Employer Association warned the sector needed an extra 24,000 new workers over the next five years.

It recently described the lack of plant engineers, geologists, drillers, earthmover operators and other staff as “crippling”.

But critics say the industry needs more than an image makeover.

Critics say the mining sector needs an image makeover to attract talent in the face of "crippling" shortages

Mining firms have been at the centre of a string of scandals over vast amounts of Earth-warming emissions, allegations of rampant sexual harassment and the recent blowing up of a series of 46,000-year-old Aboriginal rock shelters.

King said sceptics should be reminded that mining was essential for developing green technologies.

“Without the resources sector, there is no net zero,” she said.