ELKO — When you look at the statewide picture, mining seems to be a small part of employment in Nevada.
In July, the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation reported metal ore mining accounted for about 13,100 of 1.2 million jobs, roughly 1 percent of all industry jobs. Mining employers didn’t even make the list of Nevada’s top 20 employers in 2013, all of which are based in Reno and Las Vegas.
However, the mining industry has proven itself an essential part of rural Nevada, providing among the highest-paying jobs in the state on average. Furthermore, mining incorporates a wide sector of related industries that it relies on for equipment, contracting and consulting.
With regard to the removal of the net proceeds of minerals tax that is on the ballot this November, Newmont Mining Corp. Director of External Relations Mary Korpi said it is too soon to determine what effect it could have on employment.
“That would be really speculative at this point,” Korpi said. “... With elections, we just encourage employees to be as knowledgeable as they can about the issues, and to get out there and vote.”
To better understand mining’s influence on the job sector, it’s important to consider employment, wages, benefits, other industries affected and what the future could bring.
As a whole, mining employment has skyrocketed in recent years.
In the previous mining boom during the mid- 1990s, employment for mining and related activities peaked at 14,700, according to DETR. That number dropped in the early 2000s, but then rebounded during the current boom.
Between 2003 and 2013, mining jobs in Nevada increased by more than 78 percent, the department reported. Statewide employment increased only 7 percent during that time.
“What drove that, of course, are the gold prices going up,” said Jeremy Hays, economist with the DETR Research & Analysis Bureau.
The two largest mining employers in Nevada are Barrick Gold Corp. and Newmont Mining Corp.
“We are as high as we’ve ever been right now in number of employees,” Barrick Recruiting Manager Dana Pray said of her company’s Nevada workforce. Barrick has roughly 4,100 employees throughout the state.
Newmont, also, has seen a lot of growth in employment, but less so in the past couple years.
“Our turnover hasn’t really changed over the last several years,” said Cindy Wild, talent acquisition manager with Newmont North America’s regional office.
Hays said the mining industry has of late been experiencing some drop off in employment of management and other higher positions.
In 2013, natural resources and mining accounted for 15 percent of Elko County’s average employment and 95 percent of Eureka County’s, according to DETR. Mining employers topped the list of Humboldt County’s largest employers, beaten only by the school district. Cortez Gold Mines and Robinson Nevada Mining Company were the top employers in Lander County and White Pine County, respectively.
Barrick and Newmont employ a combined 7,700 throughout the state of Nevada. Many employees reside in Elko, but work in Elko, Eureka, Lander, Humboldt and White Pine Counties.
Most are Nevada residents prior to hiring.
“For what we are bringing in in 2014, the majority — about 75 percent — is coming from Nevada,” Pray said.
Hiring locally has its benefits for retention, but Barrick Director of Communications Lou Schack said housing has been an issue in the past.
For Newmont, hiring employees from out of state has oftentimes been necessary.
“The communities that we live in have low unemployment rates, so we do draw from other places,” Wild said.
Most out-of -state employees come from throughout the Western U.S., she said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Analysis, Nevada’s counties with major mining interests tend to have the lowest employment rates in the state. In 2013, these included Esmeralda, Lander, Elko, Eureka, Humboldt and White Pine counties.
Wages and Benefits
At Newmont, wages are based on skill level, education, experience and number of years with the company, Wild said.
“Typically, as an industry, an average (salary) would be about $80,000,” Korpi said.
In 2013, mining employees throughout the state had an average weekly wage of $1,677 — considerably higher than the state average of all industries at $849.
“Generally speaking, total compensation including benefits in the mining industry is about double the state average,” Schack said. “... Our benefits package is pretty much unrivaled.”
Barrick offers its employees a safety bonus; health, life and disability insurance; a 9 percent 401K match; vacation and holidays. Newmont benefits are similar, including options to choose medical, dental and vision coverage.
In a 2013 member survey done by the Nevada Mining Association, mining paid approximately $254 million in benefits and $1 billion in wages statewide. The survey also found that health care coverage rate in the mining industry was far higher than other establishments.
Mining salaries and wages have also increased along with the workforce. Salaries and wages grew 114 percent between 2003 and 2013, according to DETR.
Support activities have experienced the most growth in the current mining boom, according to DETR.
According to the Nevada Mining Association, there are 2,230 mining vendors throughout the state for 126 mines. Elko County alone has nearly 700 mining vendors.
Barrick uses a wide variety of contractors and consultants for its operations, Schack said.
“The list is literally hundreds of different types of consultants and contractors,” he said.
A larger project right now is the processing facility at the Goldstrike Mine, for which Barrick has hired construction workers and consultants.
“It’s for a short period, but they’re big jobs,” Pray said.
Long-term projections released by DETR in 2010 indicated the natural resources and mining industry was expected to bring in 7,800 jobs between 2010 and 2020.
Recent estimates, however, have changed.
According to the DETR Research & Analysis Bureau, employment in the mining industry is expected to decrease by 0.3 percent (0.6 percent in metal ore mining) between 2012 and 2022. In mining support industries, however, employment is estimated to grow by 3.2 percent during that time period.
Still, local mining companies expect to see a lot happening in the future that could bring in additional workforce.
“The future looks promising,” Schack said.
While Barrick may not have many large projects in the short term, exploration is happening at the Gold Rush project near Cortez, Turquoise Ridge Joint Venture and Sun Valley. Schack said Nevada operations will continue to be strong.
For its Long Canyon project, Newmont expects to hire an additional 300 to 500 employees in the next couple of years, Wild said.
Both companies are currently hiring. Through the end of June, Barrick had filled 729 positions this year, including both full-time and student positions, Pray said. As of July 1, the company had 115 full-time openings.
“Maintenance is one of those critical skills right now that we’re trying to fill,” Pray said.
Barrick and Newmont are seeking diesel mechanics, electricians and instrument technicians.
In order to satisfy the need for these positions, the companies have been working with Great Basin College to train future employees.
“We’ve committed more than $2 million to those programs in the last three years,” Schack said. “... We’re also working to expand the program in Winnemucca at Great Basin.”
Newmont provides scholarships with the MTC program at the college.
“We work very closely with Great Basin because part of the scholarship is work experience,” Wild said.
Newmont tries to place as many as possible after completion of the program, she said.
Both gold prices and taxes have an impact on the cost of production, and thus, hiring, Schack said.
“Generally, any time you increase the cost of doing business, it may well have an impact on hiring,” he said.
Still, in examining gold prices, Schack said Barrick looks at the long-term, rather than the short-term, impact.
At Newmont, hiring is affected by production and the business plan, which is updated both annually and on a regular basis, Korpi said.
“You always want to run as efficiently as you can,” Korpi said. “... With a sudden change in gold price, you step back and look a little deeper.”