SA Mines and Energy Journal : August-September 2011
AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2011 SA MINES & ENERGY JOURNAL 34 WORKFORCE One of the biggest issues facing companies employing remote workers is retention. The shine and lure of "big bucks" has diminished as families, friends and communities are becoming vital employee considerations. Over the past decade, defence forces around the world have evolved and adapted to the needs and wants of their remote workers -- soldiers -- and are now at the forefront of innovation in human resource strategy, development and execution. "Only a decade ago, Australian soldiers had half an hour once a fortnight to use satellite communications for personal use, to call family and friends. This placed an enormous strain on the relationships between soldiers and their families, resulting in low retention rates and huge financial costs for defence forces. Nowadays defence forces around the world employ 'recruit the soldier, retain the family' policy and provide soldiers with unlimited broadband connection anywhere in the world, for phone and Internet." Case studies from the defence forces sector also suggest that on top of remuneration and job security, communications, accommodation, facilities, entertainment, food and rosters are now major considerations in an employee's decision making process. It is a combination of these factors that is now having a great impact on the decision to stay in a particular job. "In the mining and resource sector things have dramatically changed", said Carl Dorsch, Managing Director, Adelaide Energy Limited. "Today's remote sites are more like 'modern villages' than the 'camps' of yesteryear where I first learnt my craft. A booming resources led economy has seen workers demand more than just great pay, and now there is fierce competition to keep the best people. "Listening and working closely with our staff, we now provide some of the best on-site conditions. This is particularly important as more staff opt for fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) arrangements," he said. An even newer trend is catering to the demand for world cuisines that are exciting and healthy, as employees want village food standards to match those of restaurants they are accustomed to in the city. "We are finding that meal time is becoming the cornerstone of the village community, as residents sit down and share their meal experience. A positive meal experience encourages social cohesion and a sense of community, which in turn promotes the best possible environment to live, work, play and relax" said Phil Mears, State Manager for Cater Care Services which provides catering, accommodation and facility management services for remote operations. As employers develop modern villages with premium quality accommodation and facilities, such as ensuites, minibars, gyms and sporting facilities, the greatest evolution has occurred across entertainment and communications. Advances in technology are rapidly adopted by business to achieve operational efficiencies, and such advancements are now driving major changes to employee on-site conditions. This has resulted in the evolution of the "high-tech village", where technology is the backbone of staff entertainment and communication needs. As remote workers often spend prolonged periods of time away from family and friends, Internet based applications such as VoIP, Skype and Facebook allow them to stay connected with their close ones in real-time, as well as providing them with direct access to entertainment, such as music, movies, sport and news. Defence forces around the world are now spending millions on welfare communications as they are one hundred percent "committed to soldier retention", and many resource companies are now doing the same. High-tech villages, with the comforts and standards of home, are helping the resources sector retain the best employees. As house rental costs close to remote sites are sky rocketing, more workers are opting for FIFO arrangements, placing even more emphasis on working conditions on-site. Defence forces around the world are completely reliant on satellite communications to meet their needs in difficult and dangerous environments, and now the resource sector is evolving similarly. Technology and the defence force are in uencing the retention of workers in the resources sector. Retaining remote workers Huge demand for entertainment Adrian Ballintine, CEO of Australia's leading independent satellite communications company, NewSat Limited, says "we are seeing huge demand from mine sites for digital entertainment platforms that provide 5-star hotel-grade in-room entertainment." "We provide each worker with a secure entertainment platform, which gives them free-to-air TV, pay-per-view movies, Foxtel, radio, room-to-room communications, Internet and company specific announcements. And this is all enabled via satellite, rivalling many metropolitan solutions," adds Ballintine.