Labor pains

By |  April 24, 2014

According to the U.S. Geological Survey and the Mine Safety and Health Administration, there has been about a 5 percent drop in aggregate-industry employment since four years ago. That number is due in part to more streamlined processes and the fact that technology is allowing producers to do more with less. And while new technology offers considerable benefits, including equipment that is more user friendly (requiring less-skilled operators to run it), it is also more complicated to service (requiring better-educated personnel to maintain it).

Aggregate producers who attend our annual Pit & Quarry roundtable event consistently tell us that one of the biggest challenges they face is attracting and keeping quality employees. The consensus seems to be that today’s young are going for more glamorous career paths, and pitching the construction and mining trades as rewarding work is a tough sell.

Adding to the challenge is the fact that today’s high-tech equipment often requires technicians with more education. One producer even told us that he’s no longer hiring from tech schools, but going straight for college graduates.

The Government and Public Affairs Committee of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME) has released an update of its technical briefing paper, “Workforce Trends in the U.S. Mining Industry.” The U.S. population is projected to increase more than 25 percent by 2050, and as the population grows, so does demand for upgrading the nation’s infrastructure. However, the report says, it is unlikely there will be sufficient skilled labor to provide the basic raw materials needed to build this infrastructure.

“The workforce shortage is the single greatest challenge that faces the mining industry today,” says SME Executive Director David L. Kanagy. “By 2029, more than half the current workforce will be retired, and the number of qualified science and engineering professionals graduating from U.S. schools will not meet the capacity required to fill these vacancies.”

As reported in the briefing paper, there has been a steady decline in the number of mining and mineral engineering programs at U.S. colleges in the past two decades; down from 25 in 1982 to 14 in 2014. There has also been a corresponding decline in faculty available to teach the remaining programs.

About the Author:

Darren Constantino is an editor of Pit & Quarry magazine. He can be reached at

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