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By Virginia Heffernan

Anxiety levels at mining camps are rising as the commodity slump drags on with no end in sight. From the copper-gold mines of British Columbia to the nickel mines of Ontario – not to mention the beleaguered oil sands in between – layoffs have become a reality.

Even for those still earning good wages, the lure of careers in more robust – and perhaps more stable – sectors such as technology or health care is hard to resist. Who needs the stress and uncertainty of working in an industry so tied to the vagaries of the commodity cycle?

But if you enjoy your job, abandoning the mining sector now would be a mistake. Two recent studies on mining labour trends in North America suggest that your skills will be in high demand over the next decade.

The first, a comprehensive study of the mining labour market by Canada’s Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) acknowledges the current slump, estimating the loss of 6,500 jobs in 2015 and further pain next year as a result of sluggish commodity prices and reduced investment in exploration.

But by 2018 MiHR expects the mining industry to create about 2,600 jobs per year until 2025.

With retirement factored in (about 40 per cent of the workforce is older than 45), the industry will need to hire more than 100,000 workers over the next decade, assuming business conditions forecast by the World Bank and the Conference Board of Canada are accurate. Even if the economy contracts, more than 85,000 replacement workers will be needed.

The occupation most in demand will be underground production and development miners followed by:

  • Heavy equipment operators
  • Construction millwrights and industrial mechanics
  • Truck drivers
  • Welders and related machine operators

Separate and less detailed numbers suggest the United States is in a similar boat. The country’s Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME) says mining will be one of just a few sectors that will add jobs at a fairly consistent rate over the next 10-15 years. By 2019 SME predicts mining will add 50,000 workers while another 78,000 positions will need to be replaced as a result of retirements.

The worry in the U.S. is that there will not be enough skilled personnel to fill these roles as a result of wage competition from Canada and Australia and a decline in mining training. For example, the number of mining and mineral engineering programs at U.S. colleges and universities has dropped from a high of 25 in 1982 to just 14.

The numbers paint a surprisingly rosy picture for the future of those who choose mining as a career, but if it becomes impossible for you hang on until better times, consider taking advantage of initiatives such as the mining workforce transition kit offered by MiHR or training programs such as the B.C. Government-sponsored program in the mining community of Fraser Lake.

Mining has always been a cyclical business. Although the exact timing is difficult to predict, the industry will rebound. When it does, you will be one hot commodity.

The table above is published courtesy of Canada’s Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR). 


More gems from Virginia:

Virginia Heffernan is a former exploration geologist who met her Welsh husband when they were both working on a gold project in Namibia. They live in Toronto with their teenage son. Virginia mostly stays put these days (she's now a freelance writer and member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada), but Roger continues on his global quest for the next big ore deposit. To check out Virginia's work, visit www.geopen.com