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
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.