When it comes to the mining industry, the kids today aren’t digging it.
As miners begin to retire out of the workforce, the mining industry is bracing itself for a shortage of new workers to fill those empty roles.
Fewer young people seem interested in learning the skills necessary to build and run mines that produce materials such as lithium, nickel and copper, all of which are necessary for electric vehicles, solar panels and other renewable-energy technologies.
According to a survey by the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration, enrollment in U.S. mining engineering programs dropped 46% between 2015 and 2020.
In contrast, more than half of all miners are over the age of 45 and 20% are over 60 and nearing retirement, according to a study from the mining industry resource Mercer.
An analysis by Reuters found that many young engineering students are turned off by mining’s reputation as an industry that is bad for the environment and dangerous, including a 2019 disaster when 270 people died after the collapse of a tailings dam at an iron ore mine in Brazil.
To make up for the talent shortage, universities, trade groups and companies are trying to recruit college students to the industry.
Freeport-McMoRan Chief Executive Richard Adkerson even personally met with University of Arizona students to try to persuade them to consider the industry.
Many universities are trying to modernize the field by launching or expanding courses that teach data analytics, autonomous driving and computer programming to prospective miners, as well as the traditional geology and geography.
The hope is that by emphasizing mining's role in building devices to halt climate change, the industry can attract a wave of idealistic young people.
"If you want smart people to come into this industry, you need to show them that you have a commitment to sustainability," Tom Benson, manager of global exploration at Lithium Americas Corp, told Reuters. "Mining needs to play an essential role in fighting climate change."