In Canada, admissions to the top mining schools have nearly tripled in three years, helped by salaries that can be even higher for graduates who move abroad. Recruiters say six-figure starting rates are increasingly common in Australia, where mid-career engineers make more than $200,000 a year.
Indeed, the job market there is so hot that Australia has loosened its immigration policy to allow more highly skilled mine workers in on short-term visas, a type of reform that Canada is also considering.
The sky-high starting wages for fresh graduates highlights the difficulties faced by mining and exploration companies to find and retain skilled labor. In fact, mining CEOs often cite the labor crunch as their No. 1 cost pressure.
The problem is rooted in the low metals prices of the 1990s, when gold was worth $350 an ounce, and mining was the last choice for engineering and science students.
"When the mining industry was not in vogue, the colleges didn't get the numbers coming in," said Nick Eastwood, president of MinSouth and a consultant at Hunter Personnel. "So they shut their courses and got rid of the people who taught it."
Fast-forward two decades, gold is worth more than $1,650 an ounce and there is a yawning shortage of mid-career professionals. The problem will get worse over the next decade, as the current crop of senior engineers, geologists and mining executives retires.
"When they go, the replacements just aren't there," said Eastwood, adding that most people working in the industry now are either aged 50 or more, or have less than five years experience. "There's a leadership problem looming."
The risk is that companies will end up simply not having enough skilled people to staff their project pipelines, and that could mean some will never come to fruition.