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Finding mining employees: Challenges and opportunities

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This year we’ve seen a lot of turmoil in the economy, and a hot job market that’s presented challenges for employers looking for employees.

In March the number of job openings in the United States went up to 11.86 million, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the highest level in records that date back 20 years, Christopher Rugaber reported in an AP story.

“At that level, there are nearly two job openings for every unemployed person,” Rugaber wrote. “That’s a sharp reversal from the historic pattern: Before the pandemic, there were always more unemployed people than available jobs.”

Also, “the number of people quitting their jobs remained near record highs at 4.4 million in April. … Nearly all of those who quit do so to take another job, typically for higher pay.”

The number of job openings has declined a bit since March, and was at 10.7 million at the end of June.

Like many industries, the mining industry has been faced with challenges in this job market.

When Elko Daily staff spent time at the Elko Mining Expo in June, the most common comments they heard from people in the mining industry were about the problems they were having getting employees.

We visited with Tyre Gray, the president of the Nevada Mining Association, and checked in with Nevada Gold Mines, the largest mining employer in Nevada, for some comments on the employment situation in the mining industry.

NVMA

NVMA President Tyre Gray said the mining industry in Nevada has had roughly 1,000 open positions for a while. He said if mining companies successfully fill those 1,000 positions, there would be many benefits for every single Nevadan.

If a person who is unemployed or under-employed gets a job, that can get them off state programs. That frees up money for others who need help from the social safety net.

If a company fills its vacant positions, that can help it operate more efficiently and profitably, creating more tax revenue.

“So it’s really a win-win-win situation,” Gray said.

If the mining industry hired 1,000 more people in Nevada, and those employees made an average income of $100,000, that adds up to an additional $100 million in salaries in the state.

“There’s a huge induced benefit,” Gray said. “That’s $100 million extra flowing into the economy. And that’s only through the direct payment in salaries and wages to those folks. Taking into account that the mining industry also provides for employer-paid health care, that means you’re going to have 1,000 extra people who have good health care, possibly 1,000 extra families that have good health care. And then we also make contributions toward your retirement, so those are 1,000 extra people who are going to be able to retire with dignity.”

The NVMA has been working on a variety of programs to help attract more people to seek employment in the mining industry.

One of the programs, “Mining Vegas for Talent,” reaches out to people in southern Nevada who may not be familiar with mining, including veterans and people living in lower socioeconomic areas.

The NVMA has been looking to other industries with some similarities to mining to find possible strategies for seeking new employees.

“We recognize that employment in the mining space means that you’re probably going to be living in a rural community or you’re going to be commuting. We see it similar to truck driving. We know long-haul truck drivers will go out for three to four days, and be able to be home for three to four days.

“So we’ve been trying to learn from the truck driving model to help recruit.”

“Mining is a very lucrative industry. It’s going to require you be away from home every now and then, but when you’re home, you’re home, and there’s a lot of value to being able to provide for your family.”

“That’s what the American dream is all about, being able to make sure that you can take care of you and yours and have a little fun in the process.”

One of the interesting changes during and since the pandemic, Gray said, is that more people who live in cities are considering rural living as a positive opportunity. That may inspire some people to give more serious consideration to pursuing a job in mining.

“That’s an opportunity to be able to grow our workforce, and we’re looking forward to it,” he said.

Gray said he sees the recruitment of more people into the mining industry as a “2D” program. We need to “Diversify” – consider new approaches to finding new employees — and we need to “Demystify.”

“There’s a demystification that has to happen in mining,” Gray said. “If you don’t know anything about what modern mining looks like, you are subject to thinking that working at a mine site means you’re going to be swinging a pickaxe. And we know that’s not the case.

“So I think as we continue to educate the everyday Nevadan and the everyday American about what modern mining actually looks like here in Nevada and across America, you’ll continue to see people actually consider mining as an industry that they would want to work for. And that’s something that we are squarely focused on at the association.”

NGM

Nevada Gold Mines provided answers to some questions about the company’s efforts to find more employees.

How many vacancies do you have at this point?

Currently, we have just under 500 vacancies at some stage of the recruiting process; and, given our growth plans, we expect to continue to recruit at about the same rate.

Is Nevada Gold Mines having more difficulty than in years past in finding enough employees to approach being fully staffed?

Along with many other companies during the pandemic-fueled great resignation, Nevada Gold Mines experienced an increase in turnover, and the team has been focused on retaining our current workforce and attracting new talent into the organization. Our current annualized turnover is 19%.

It has been more difficult to recruit post-pandemic. However, despite these obstacles, we are filling our vacancies with hard-working, dedicated employees who want a long-term career with us. To attract the talent we need, we are continuously highlighting the challenging and rewarding career opportunities that are available across our organization. We are also working with our educational and industry partners to emphasize the benefits of working in the mining industry and living in our communities.

While working in mining can be demanding with 12-hour work schedules, often paired with long commutes, it also affords multiple days off in a row. Further, at NGM, we prioritize supporting the aspirations of every individual with ongoing development and learning opportunities. We offer competitive pay, first-class benefits, company-sponsored medical clinics, 401k retirement plans, and much more, all of which allows for a high-quality life – in some of the best, close-knit communities in Nevada.

What kind of programs are you involved in to find more employees?

To ensure a sustainable future, mining as an industry must attract the next generation of workers. That is why NGM is building a talent pipeline to ensure that it has the employees it needs well into the future.

So far this year, NGM has hosted three career fairs and participated in 59 other recruiting events. At these fairs and events, NGM representatives meet with candidates to learn more about them and provide them with information about careers in the mining industry, our communities, our organization, and specific jobs available. At career fairs, we also conduct interviews with attendees and often make offers to join our team.

Each year, NGM offers internships to provide college students an opportunity to work directly with our industry professionals to grow vital skills and knowledge to succeed in their specialty. We hosted 104 interns from our partner universities this summer. We also employ summer students from our local communities and provide scholarship programs.

We also understand the importance of skilled trades training to meet the local workforce demands and offer career development options for new entrants into mining. NGM supports a myriad of programs.

Great Basin College programs:

Welding Lab: Approved through NGM’s Community Development Committee process was our $300,000 investment to GBC to support their welding lab expansion. This initiative will allow the college to increase the number of graduates able to complete the program, providing more skilled workers to support the growing needs of the area.

Maintenance Training Cooperative Program: Provides individuals with a unique opportunity to start a career in one of the following technical trades: diesel, welding, electrical systems, instrumentation or industrial millwright. Nevada Gold Mines provides selected students with a $5,000 scholarship to GBC in Nevada to help cover the tuition, fees, and books for one of their fast-paced Certificate/Associate of Applied Science degree programs.

Commercial Driver’s License Program: It is critical for our operational success and safety that we have skilled commercial drivers in the region. Commercial haulage is also a strong engine for jobs and growth in local economies. As such, we collaborated with five industry partners in Nevada, GBC, and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to launch the CDL program at GBC.

Also, NGM partnered with the College of Southern Nevada and the Clark County School District’s Rancho High School to create a program that offers high school students the opportunity to earn a certificate in Diesel Technology or Industrial Maintenance. There were 24 students enrolled in the first cohort of this program.

What projects have you been working on to help make Northern Nevada more attractive to employees and people who are considering moving here?

At NGM, we have been focused on supporting our local communities, working together with our partners to make them more attractive places to live and work.

In 2021, we announced a $30 million partnership with Anthem Broadband to bring highspeed internet to Elko, Spring Creek, and Lamoille. This fast-paced project has already started connecting residents and is projected to complete within the next 24 months. Of the $30 million loan, $10 million will be paid back to NGM’s I-80 Fund small business loan program and $20 million will be paid to NGM’s Community Endowment Fund.

Also in 2021, NGM enacted Community Development Committees comprised of local leaders who are responsible for nominating community development projects for NGM funding consideration. Since inception, these CDCs have approved over $5 million in community projects ranging from educational initiatives to environmental and economic development opportunities.

One of the largest projects approved through the CDC process is NGM’s $3 million investment in the Boys and Girls Club for the development of two new learning centers in Elko and Spring Creek. The Nevada Gold Mines Learning Centers will not only provide top-rated childcare but will also deliver a comprehensive education and pre-school program. These centers will be open from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. to accommodate mining schedules, which will help alleviate stress felt by parents when trying to find reputable and affordable childcare.

In July 2020, NGM created the I-80 Fund with an investment of $5 million. The Fund initially provided low interest loans to small businesses that were negatively impacted by Covid-19 and is now focused on new business start-ups and expansions in northern Nevada. Thanks to our contributing partners who have collectively given more than $300,000, this fund is sustainable for the small business community. To date, this program has approved 50 loans for a total of $5.6 million in funding, helping to retain 185 jobs and create an additional 104.

With people feeling the pinch from inflation, is this a factor which can help in recruiting more people into mining?

Our focus is on providing long-term, rewarding careers for those who join our team. At the same time, we monitor labor market data and adjust our compensation and benefit packages as necessary to ensure we remain competitive and offer packages that attract and retain talented employees. 

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