FIFO lifestyle: rewards and risks
FIFO (fly-in, fly-out) workers are mainly found in Australia’s resources industry, which contributes a mind-boggling $250 billion to the economy each year in exports alone (70% of our total exports). This industry employs about 250,000 workers, and almost six times that number (1.1 million) rely on the industry for their employment. Backed by the raw data, the importance of Australia’s resources sector is paramount.
Mining demands a high level of skills, and in return, employees receive high wages ($140,000 on average, 60% more than the median wage). A FIFO worker salary can be very lucrative, and some of the highest-paid employees in Australia are FIFO workers.
Mining sites are often located far from the nearest town, and companies find it more financially beneficial to bring workers in for their shifts. These shifts are typically 12 hours per day, lasting anywhere from seven days to four weeks. Workers get breaks of several days between shifts but spending long periods away from home can put a strain on personal relationships (especially in young families).
Nonetheless, FIFO life is found in an exciting, rewarding industry in which the key to success is striking a work/life balance that suits you.
How to survive and thrive in the world of FIFO
Apart from the financial gain, there are real advantages to earning a living on remote work sites. The hours and ‘swings’ might be long, but there are decent periods to spend at home in between.
On-site, the only thing other than work that you need to do is your laundry! Personal expenses are minimal, so the opportunity to save money is what attracts many FIFO workers. The downside includes missing significant milestones (birthdays, social events) while you are away, a lack of variety in the workplace, and difficulty establishing friendships on big worksites.
Despite these circumstances, one significant advantage FIFO workers have is the opportunity to gain on-the-job experience and first-hand knowledge, from a multitude of different departments and even companies. Those who can capitalise on this knowledge and nurture industry contacts are in a great position to advance their career. Using on-site breaks and downtime to upskill, qualifications is a smart way to impress employers and advance your career.
FIFO as a pathway to management
A recent survey found career development is second only to work/life balance in terms of what workplace issues are the most important to FIFO workers (40% compared to 37%). Many industries are aggressively pursuing graduates, incentivising mining companies to bring something to the table in terms of career progression opportunities.
Technology is changing rapidly, so employees who upskill with diplomas relating to any number of disciplines will have a strong advantage. Engineering is an obvious choice in this space, particularly as spending on resources infrastructure increases.
Internal candidates with the right qualifications will be front and centre for promotion, if for no other reason than employers know you are already across the industry’s unique culture. The key to making this work is by structuring your study around difficult rosters and long hours. That is why online diploma courses, such as those offered by the College for Adult Learning, are so well suited to the FIFO lifestyle. They can be completed in at your own pace and in your timeframe.
Study tips for FIFO work
There’s a host of online courses that can assist you in upskilling and becoming qualified for management roles in the resources sector. The practical experience you’ve gained is certainly valuable, but earning a further qualification allows you to take the next step in your career.
Subjects that would be helpful within the industry include project management, human resources, health and safety, leadership management, and quality auditing. However like anything, online study requires a plan.
A good strategy is to enlist the help and support of your friends and family. FIFO workers are already good at managing time and can easily adapt to adding online study commitments to the mix. Try and stick to a regular study routine such as setting aside study periods during breaks on-site, slotting an hour of study a day aside when you’re back home, or researching on your laptop during transfers between home and the worksite. Make the most of your days off and take advantage of your colleagues’ experience by choosing appropriate mentors to help with your work.
Online study is specifically designed as something you can do it at your own pace and in your own time. You will have great access to tutors and coaches who have significant industry experience. Shifts can offer a week or even two weeks off in one stretch, allowing you plenty of time to commit to your diploma. Many professionals find that dividing their time into pre-planned work/study/downtime sections creates a discipline that also enhances other aspects of their lives.
Why FIFO industry management is worth it
Knowing the culture of an industry where you want a management role is vital. Even letting the boss know your desire to get promoted can be a factor. More than three quarters (77%) of employers are more likely to consider a candidate who upskills regularly, yet only 24% of workers upskill just once a year. In contrast, only 4% of workers never study for extra qualifications at all.
If becoming a leader is attractive to you, be strategic and ask around about what skills your managers think will be essential in the next three, five, or even ten years. Picking the brains of those who are planning a company’s strategic direction is a smart way to decide what qualifications you need.
Industry trends are one thing, but there’s nothing better than knowledge gained on the ground. Those with both ‘hands-on’ experience (via FIFO work), coupled with the right qualifications, will be the future leaders of an industry which produces six of Australia’s top ten most valuable goods; iron ore, coal, natural gas, gold, aluminium, and petroleum. That’s a powerful incentive to upskill and get the qualifications you need to have a pivotal role not just in your industry, but to contribute significantly to an entire country’s economy.