By Emilia Terzon
February 2, 2018 - After years of downturn, companies in Queensland, Australia's coal country are feeling cautiously optimistic, but experts are warning jobseekers and homeowners not to bank on another mining boom.
The mining downturn hit central Queensland hard, with a housing market crash in Gladstone after the LNG boom and significant job losses in mining towns such as Blackwater, Emerald, Tieri and Middlemount.
But now, a few years later, a major mining services company that axed hundreds of central Queensland jobs during the downturn is hiring again.
Mining services company Hastings Deering is hiring again after axing hundreds of jobs during the mining downturn.
Photo by Emilia Terzon, ABC News
Hastings Deering is looking for 100 new workers in Rockhampton and Mackay alone.
"We're looking for everyone from diesel fitters through to auto-electricians and then mechanically minded trade assistants," regional manager Daniel Viro said.
"It's fair to say we're starting to come through a significant downturn and we're a little bit optimistic about the future."
That sentiment is being reflected in industry forecasts, with BIS Oxford Economics recently concluding Australia's mining downturn was almost over.
The forecaster's economist Rubhen Jeya said better global prices for Australian coal, especially from China, were driving much of the recovery in Queensland.
Jobseekers Hoping for 'A Nice Little Boom'
One of the world's biggest mining companies, Glencore, has five coal mines in Queensland, and a company spokesman agreed the industry's medium-to-long term future was promising.
"The current recovery in the coal sector is very good news for Queensland," the spokesman said in a statement.
The industry's positivity has even filtered down to companies training mining worker hopefuls.
Luke van Zweeden is a jobseeker who just learnt how to drive a specialist excavator at an Occupational Skills Centre Australia (OSCA) site in bushland near Maryborough.
"I've got a few friends in mining and they're always saying it's a good industry and it's good money," van Zweeden said.
"I'm pretty hopeful that there should be a nice little boom."
OSCA regional training manager Simon Hawthorne believed his trainees' prospects of cracking into the mining sector were the best they had been in years.
"The last couple of months, it's really started to ramp up with lots of the mining projects up north," Hawthorne said.
"Ultimately, they're not going to get a $150,000 job straight out of training, but they can get some casual work or work in shutdown work in maintenance."
Last Decade's Boom a Once-in-a-Lifetime Event
Central Queensland University economist John Rolfe agreed the region's mining industry was in a better place than a few years ago.
But he cautioned it was coming off a low base, and that last decade's boom of high-paying jobs, new mining projects and rapid growth in towns such as Gladstone was a once-in-a-lifetime event.
"Even though [the mining companies] are spending more and doing more maintenance, they're only doing what they have to," Rolfe said.
"It won't go back to where it was."
He said the casualization of the mining workforce had become the new norm, meaning jobs were less secure if the industry dipped again, and inexperienced jobseekers would struggle to secure work.
Rolfe's advice for mining hopefuls was: "Don't be afraid of taking short-term contracts, because that's pretty much all that's on offer."