Our recent candid interview with mining professional Dave Dyet highlighted the pros and cons of life as an expat, particularly in respect of the effect on family life and relationships. To ensure staff retention mining companies are now investigating ways in which they can improve the work/life balance of expat workers.

FIFO jobs

What is a FIFO Job?

A FIFO, or ‘Fly In, Fly Out’ job in the mining industry is where mining employees fly out to their mining site for the time they are rostered on.  At the end of the roster they return home. While they are on site their employer provides accommodation, catering and recreational facilities. Due to the nature of the work it is not uncommon for a FIFO position to be secured through a mining recruitment agency.

Rosters on FIFO Jobs

Rosters vary depending on the mining operation and the requirements of the position. Typically they can range from 3 weeks on, 1 week off to 12 weeks on, 4 weeks off including travel time but this can vary dramatically depending on the mining company and operation.

The Benefits

FIFO jobs can be advantageous to both mining professionals and mining employers. Mining sites are frequently situated in remote parts of the world where relocation would not be an option for the mining employee. The positions are often well paid and changing jobs is normally relatively straightforward.  Expat workers considering their next move can always discuss their options with a reputable mining recruitment agency.

Concerns Over FIFO Jobs

Concerns have been expressed for some time over the wellbeing of mining professionals in FIFO jobs, particularly:-.

  • The effect on sleep patterns and sleep quality due to long work rosters.
  • Lack of exercise and nutrition options
  • Impact on relationships.

Fortunately mining companies and mining recruitment agencies are not immune to the potentially detrimental effects of FIFO jobs and steps are being taken to improve the impact on families in particular.

New Initiatives

In direct response to this concern, a FIFO Families Initiative was launched across Australia and New Zealand eighteen months ago and is expanding significantly. In the Western Australian mining industry alone there are currently 90,000 mining employees, half of these in FIFO jobs.

The initiative is intended to help mining professionals and their families gain a thorough understanding of the impact of a FIFO lifestyle. It also offers a supportive network to those families struggling with the absence of a partner.  Members can share childcare and participate in social activities at weekends.

In the long-term it is hoped that it will benefit both employers and mining recruitment agencies involved in recruiting for FIFO jobs by making the expat lifestyle more attractive to potential candidates.

Additionally, it is predicted to improve staff retention rates and reduce the cost of recruiting.  For mining company Rio Tinto this will be a particularly significant move – 47% of its workforce is FIFO.  Rio Tinto was the first company to introduce FIFO options in the early 1990s.

If FIFO Culture is New to You

The nature of FIFO jobs can place strain on family lives but advice on how to manage the transition is available.  For families in this situation suggestions include:-

  • Thorough planning for the practical aspect of the change in family life.
  • Open discussions covering any concerns, including doubts from either side about the decisions.
  • Offering encouragement to your partner, both to those staying at home and those moving into the FIFO jobs roster.
  • Focus on the future. Will this be a long-term change or is it a temporary measure?
  • Consider getting involved with the FIFO Families initiative if this is either practical or possible.

Expats securing their next role through a mining recruitment agency can also discuss any concerns with their recruiter.

Additional suggestions for employers to improve on-site life for expat workers include:-

  • Improved accommodation standards in terms of function and design.
  • Guaranteed internet and Skype facilities
  • Flexible rosters such as one week on, one week off.
  • Group based health and lifestyle programs.

In addition, at the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia’s annual health and safety review earlier this year, Oxford University psychology professor Dr Kathy Parkes warned of the health risks of mixing day and night shifts in the same FIFO cycle. According to Dr Parkes, the UK’s Health and Safety executive are considering a two weeks on, two weeks off roster to reduce potential psychological disruption to mining workers.

Where to Find FIFO Jobs

FIFO jobs are particularly popular throughout Africa and Australia who depend heavily on expats to compensate for the skills shortage. An experienced mining recruitment agency can offer advice on the types of roles available and discuss any concerns with mining professionals.