According to Grand View Research, the global mining automation market was valued at $4.90 billion in 2022. Rapid advancements in technology, robotics and artificial intelligence haven’t simply changed the face of mining, they’ve changed the face of mining careers. Despite the modernization of mining, there is still a tendency to depict mining jobs as a man in overalls, donning a headlamp hardhat, holding a pickaxe, covered in dust. And, while there are still men and women who proudly wear the headlamp and hardhat, there is infinitely more to a mining career today, as there will be tomorrow and moving forward. 

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Antiquated conceptions of mining jobs don’t stop with pickaxes and dust. There is also a significant disconnect when it comes to the opportunities aligned with careers in mining. Did you know that in the U.S., mining accounts for 472,000 direct industry jobs and 813,000 indirect jobs? Additionally, the average salary for a mining employee is $85,000. That’s almost $20,000 more than the average ($68,000) wage in the U.S. Here in the Grand Canyon State, mining employees fare even better, with an average salary of more than $100,000 per year, according to the Arizona Mining Association. 

Mining gets a new look

For all the economic impact — bringing in $1.5 billion in direct income to Arizona — and generation of high paying employment options, why aren’t mining jobs more widely coveted? Or, at least more talked about?

“We’re getting better at this over time,” says Sophie Dessart, manager of communications and public affairs at Florence Copper, “but all of us in the mining industry need to increase our outreach to students at a young age to make them aware of the benefits of pursuing a career in mining and the importance of mining in our state.”

Dessart notes that many students aren’t even aware that one of the five C’s of Arizona is copper and that our state produced 71% of U.S. domestic copper in 2021.

“We also need to continue to support higher education institutions that are helping to educate generations of future miners,” she continues, “whether that be local community colleges that have trade program certifications, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, or the School of Mining and Mineral Resources at University of Arizona.”

For its part, Florence Copper has been a powerful employment engine for the Grand Canyon State. According to one of the organization’s reports, over the 20-plus years of the project, Florence Copper will generate 796 jobs in the state of Arizona.

Whitney Lennon, community outreach coordinator for ASARCO and chair of the Arizona Mining Association’s Education Subcommittee, mirrors Dessart’s sentiments. “I can share that we are laser-focused on K-12 curriculum, train the trainer and career pathway opportunities,” she says. “Great work is already being accomplished out there by our mining partners. The goal is to combine it into one cohesive approach to gain more traction. The University of Arizona School of Mining and Natural Resources is also an invaluable tool in this effort.”

Unexpected opportunities

The continued need for educating existing and new generations of what modern mining is along with all its potential is something for which Dessart and Lennon feel immense passion, especially having embarked upon their mining careers indirectly. 

“I married into mining, and we moved to the Silver Valley in Idaho,” Lennons says. “I was an established professional when [my husband and I] met, and I joked with friends about moving to this obscure town so my husband could dig up rocks. I quickly realized that the more I learned about mining, the less I knew. It was the complexity that was the hook for me. I knew this was an industry where I could continue to grow for years.”

Adds Dessart, “I never expected to end up in the mining industry when I was a kid. I am a social butterfly and am passionate about connecting with others, which led me to external relations consulting. I ended up working for a consulting firm that happened to have the majority of its clients come from the mining industry, and I fell in love with mining.”

Now, both seasoned mining professionals and mining-career advocates, Lennon and Dessart know the breadth and depth of opportunities and benefits attached to mining career paths.

“When you speak to different individuals in the mining industry, you’ll find they each have an extraordinary and unique story about what the industry has provided them,” Lennon says, noting that mining is: A career that enables employees to continuously reinvent themselves by taking advantage of different paths; often there is free on-the-job training; mining offers global job opportunities, and at a base level, mining jobs provide good pay and benefits,. 

“There are a lot of families who breathe easier because they have a stable livelihood,” Lennon says. “I know my husband and I do. New hires and longtime coworkers have shared touching stories about how much the benefits and stability mean to their families.”

Career benefits

Above and beyond the intrinsic benefits mining jobs offer, there are additional advantages.

“A career in mining allows individuals to work at a company that is actively working to enhance the lives of the community in closest proximity to the project,” Dessart says. “Mines are known for bringing not just jobs and economic growth to a community but also for their charitable giving, scholarship programs and other efforts to engage with the local community.”

According to ZipRecruiter, the top-ten most popular mining jobs in the U.S. are mining engineer, mining engineering, mining project engineer, global mining, mining sales, mining consultant, process mining, mining maintenance, mining engineer consultant and mining administration. 

Lennon explains that geosciences and technical trades are among some of the high demand mining jobs she has observed.

“Mining companies offer apprenticeships, which is another great benefit,” she says. “From the work I’ve done with the Arizona Mining Association’s Education Subcommittee, a common theme is that there aren’t enough kids interested in — or aware of — the technical trades.”

Dessart echoes the need for not only interest in technical trades, but skilled trades across the board to support mining labor. 

“The mining industry offers jobs in a plethora of fields and functions, but a common need faced by the industry currently is that of skilled trade workers (electricians, mechanics, etc.),” she says. “Across various industries, the U.S. has seen a decline in skilled trade workers, and the mining industry has been impacted by that overall trend.”

An NPR article referenced that the, “The application rate for young people seeking technical jobs — like plumbing, building and electrical work — dropped by 49% in 2022 compared to 2020.”

Attraction and promotion

In an effort to offset the decline in skilled tradespeople, Florence Copper provides a tuition reimbursement program and is currently working to establish trade skills pipelines to train and develop skill sets for the future, according to Dessart.

To help attract its share of potential mining employees and shift old mindsets about what mining jobs are, ASARCO made a bold move and opened its door to offer Arizona’s only public tour of an operating mine at the ASARCO Mineral Discovery Center & Mine Tours in Sahuarita, Arizona. 

“Today’s mining is modern and depends heavily on the latest technologies available,” Lennon says. “This is a strong selling point for students today. It’s a fun moment when an engineering student realizes that they get to play with technology and work outside for their job. They’re hooked!”

And while providing incentives such as Florence Copper, ASARCO and others have done to entice laborers to the mining industry, the advocacy and transparency of real people — like Dessart and Lennon — are helping change the narrative and outlook of what mining careers can be. 

“The people in this industry are incredibly kind, warm and welcoming, and it really feels like one big family,” Dessart says. “There’s a joke in the mining industry that the world is just one small mine camp, and I completely agree. You get to know the people in this industry, and whenever you attend a mining industry event, you are guaranteed to see at least one familiar smiling face.”

Adds Lennon, “If you haven’t guessed yet, there is just something different, something special about this industry and the people in it.”