If you live in Western Australia, chances are you know or have met someone who’s a fly-in-fly-out worker. With over 60,000 people actively involved in the FIFO sector, it’s a work practice that’s not only proven popular within the resources sector, but in a variety of other industries too. While some employees will choose to relocate to regional areas for permanent work, others prefer the flexibility of a FIFO roster – allowing them to travel between their work site and existing home, where their families, friends and social networks are all based.

The ability to access suitable FIFO rosters has given workers a greater work/life-balance than ever before. The FIFO lifestyle enables people to build successful careers in regional areas, while still enjoying all the key benefits of living in a thriving metropolitan city.

With FIFO playing such a key part in WA’s social and economic landscape, we thought it might be useful to dig a little deeper into what it means exactly to be a FIFO worker.

Why do companies use FIFO?

It probably won’t surprise you to know that the majority of Australia’s resource ventures are based in regional areas. The remoteness of these locations represents a significant challenge for mining companies, since there is often insufficient skilled labour in these areas to meet the project’s operational needs. In fact, more and more of the Australian population is choosing to live in metropolitan areas instead – up to 70% as recently as 2011 (ABS Census Data 2011).

That’s where the need for FIFO workers comes in.

To remain competitive in a tough, globally driven environment, it’s absolutely critical that our resource projects have access to a specialised, mobile FIFO workforce. This need for a flexible labour pool is even more important when you consider the immense size of Western Australia, and the fact that many of our mineral-rich sites are located in the more isolated areas of our state.

The contribution of our FIFO workers is often key to these projects’ success.

Image used courtesy of BHP Billiton

Why choose FIFO?

When it comes to employment options, the balancing of financial reward with an enjoyable lifestyle is often crucial in deciding whether a particular job is suitable for you. The CME workforce survey undertaken in 2015 proved that these were also the two most important considerations for people choosing between residential, or FIFO work.

Fortunately, the FIFO system gives employees the opportunity to achieve both. A variety of different rosters, coupled with attractive financial benefits, allow FIFO workers to enjoy the unique combination of a successful career, and a rewarding home life. It’s why FIFO continues to be so popular amongst so many Western Australians.

74% FIFO workers would not stay in their current role if it changed to a residential role. Survey results show that overwhelmingly, families do not want to relocate as they are content with their work arrangements.

FIFO is all about choice for employees: a choice about where they live and where they work.

As construction finishes, what happens to FIFO rosters?

The mining process involves a few different cycles: exploration; construction; operations and maintenance. Each of these phases might be different, but the one thing they have in common is the need for FIFO rosters to help make them happen. That’s why –regardless of what cycle the project is in - FIFO workers will always play an integral part in the operation’s ongoing success.

The modern family is changing too. In fact, 73% of resources sector workers’ partners are engaged in their own careers - jobs that may not be easily transferrable if they chose to relocate to a regional area (CME 2015 Workforce Survey). The appeal of having an independent career, a metropolitan lifestyle and the double income that comes from you and your partner, are significant factors for couples choosing the FIFO lifestyle.

Who uses FIFO?

Western Australia is spread out on a massive scale, and so are the industries that thrive within it. Whilst the word ‘FIFO’ might be synonymous with hard hats and high vis’ gear, it also includes employees in industries like health, agriculture and even politics. Basically, if there’s an industry that exists in regional WA, you can almost guarantee the need for at least some FIFO workers to help service it.

The importance of FIFO was summed up more formally by the Productivity Commission when it found: “long-distance commuting, can facilitate the distribution of higher incomes, and consequently wellbeing, more broadly across Australia” and that “in the absence of geographic labour mobility, high demand regions would experience localised inflation and would not reach their potential output, while low demand regions would experience higher unemployment than they would otherwise.”

Image used courtesy of BHP Billiton

CME FIFO Windsor Submission

CME Workforce Survey