Labor concerns similar in US and Australia

June 5, 2013

Dave Kanagy, executive director of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME) told the Resources & Energy Investment Symposium in Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia in May that a tighter workforce will be the result of increased international competition for qualified personnel if the number of mining education institutions continues to recede.

In his presentation, Kanagy compared the labor issues that the Australian mining sector is facing with the U.S. mining industry.

Kanagy said that of the 160 million-strong workforce in the United States, just 400,000 were employed in mining.

“Skilled mine labor is going to be a pretty scarce resource, good management is going to be a scarce resource, but unskilled labor will increase,” he said.

“We’re projecting 228,000 new workers [will be needed in the U.S. mining industry] by 2019. Canada is going to be looking for 100,000 and Australia will be looking for 85,000 workers.”

Kanagy charted the average mining industry wage across all skill levels in Australia at $US50 ($A51) per hour, compared to $27.5 an hour in the U.S. – a discrepancy that could be an advantage to Australia as international competition for skilled workers increases, Mining News Premium reported on June 5.

Kanagy said the  age of the average worker in the U.S. is 40.7 years old while the average age of a U.S. miner is 47.2 years, due in part to a hiring slump in the 1980s and 1990s, a major reduction in available talent is on the horizon.

“Over the next 15 to 17 years, we’re going to replace 52 percent of the industry,” he said.

“That’s probably the best-case scenario, because there’re some scenarios that we’ve mapped out where it looks like we might replace 78 percent of the industry between now and 2029.”

Kanagy suggested diversification of mining labor to include more women, but focused primarily on the need for increased efforts to expand education options as mining schools continue to close and lose funding.

“There’re about 120 professors at 14 mining schools in the United States, and about 70 of them are 65 years or older. So there’s going to be a critical problem very soon with replacing those professors and teaching them.

“If we cannot replace them, we’re going to have a hard time keeping those schools alive because it’s very easy for a high-cost program like mining engineering to be taken away.

Kanagy said SME efforts to push for more mining education had even extended to the kindergarten-to-high school level.

“We’ve invested a lot of time and money in our Minerals Education Institute, which we now call our Minerals Education Coalition,” he said.

“The primary focus of our group there is to develop supplemental educational material that talks about minerals in our daily life, how important they are, how those minerals are extracted, and provide curriculum that earth science teachers can use in their classrooms.

“We’ve had some pretty good and significant impacts.”



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