In 2016 US universities were churning out just over 7,500 earth science and geology degrees. Those figures held relatively steady until 2019 when graduates slipped to roughly 7,300. By 2020 they were under 7,000 and in 2021 there were approximately 5,800.
Degree preference swings are not rare. Some degrees go in and out of favor while new areas of discipline are constantly entering the marketplace. But this trend with earth science and geology degrees has the mining sector’s attention. Mining depends on an influx of fresh minds and youth like most industries. Declining interest is sounding the alarm that growth plans and expansion will suffer if the sector cannot count on high-skilled graduates such as exploration geologists, engineers, and others.
Mining is embroiled in a public relations quandary. Many young (and not-so-young) people are concerned about the effects of extractive industries on the future of the planet. A McKinsey & Company survey of 15 to 30-year-olds perfectly illustrated this point. Asked if they would consider a career in high tech, 35% indicated they probably or definitely would. A career in health care scored the highest, with 37% signaling they probably or definitely would. Contrast this with a career in oil and gas and the figure drops to 14%. Mining scored the worst – just 11% thought they probably or definitely would consider a career in mining.
Over half of US mine employees are 45 years of age or older. A similar McKinsey study revealed an overwhelming majority (86%) of industry leaders are concerned about recruiting and retaining talent. Mining vacancies are up not only in the US but in similar mining countries like Australia and Canada. Some firms such as Rio Tinto have made it clear that a continued shortfall of quality employees will likely translate to underperformance or business delays.
Despite a sour outlook, many firms are on an offensive recruiting push. Business and data science majors are now being considered and many mines are prioritizing hiring in closer proximities to the mines themselves. The Chilean state-owned copper mining company, Codelco, has improved its recruiting numbers with a greater focus on local, mine-adjacent talent. The Egyptian gold mining group, Centamin, is now hiring more local, Egyptian labor than expatriates, something that was quite common just five years ago. Rio Tinto’s graduate-trainee program grew by 30% last year, and BHP reports expectations of 3,500 new hires via a recruiting program that focuses on trainees and apprentices as opposed to just college graduates.
Underreported in this recruiting challenge is the scarce number of women in mining. The construction sector and mining have extreme gender imbalances, with just 12% of women making up the global mining and metals workforce last year.