Geologists dig deeper for jobs as Australia's mining boom ends

SYDNEY Sun Jan 6, 2013 9:15pm EST

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SYDNEY Jan 7 (Reuters) - Geoscientists working in Australia have been hit hard by the demise of a decade-long mining boom, with the number of newly unemployed accelerating at a dramatic pace, a sector survey released on Monday showed.

Unemployment among geoscientists doubled in the second half of 2012, according to the the Australian Institute of Geoscientists (AIG).

Geoscientists, which include some engineering and geology disciplines, are responsible for finding new sources of petroleum and metals by studying physical aspects of the earth and are integral to most mining companies.

The institute, which conducted a survey of the employment prospects for those in the field, said the results confirm unemployment and underemployment among Australia's geoscientists was rising in the aftermath of layoffs and belt-tightening by mining companies.

The unemployment rate in the sector was 6.1 percent in the second half of 2012 versus 2.9 percent in the first-half of 2012, it said.

This compares with a national unemployment rate average of 5.3 percent between July 1 and Nov. 30, according to the latest available government figures.

"Almost 65 percent of unemployed geoscientists lost their positions during the fourth quarter of 2012, a direct reflection of the mining sector downturn," AIG's president, Kaylene Camuti said.

Frantic demand from a fast-industrialising China for commodities over the last decade until recently shielded Australia from the global downturn and prompted $400 billion in investment. Desperate to retain staff, six-figure salaries and elaborate extras for everyone from geologists to truck drivers became commonplace.

"Unfortunately geoscientists, particularly those employed in resource exploration, appear to very much be the canaries in the coal mine by being first to feel the impact of any downturn in resource sector activity," Camuti said.

But not every mining company is contracting, particularly if it involves iron ore, where prices have rebounded sharply on renewed Chinese demand.

Australia's three largest producers, Rio Tinto , BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group, are each ramping up output at their mines.

Iron ore prices .IO62-CNI=SI are the highest in more than a year. At the same time, the price of nickel, another key Australian export, is nearly the lowest in three years.

(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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