Nevada’s mining industry appears to be on solid ground.

In 2018, the Silver State accounted for about 77% of the gold and 28% of the silver mined in the U.S., according to the Nevada Mining Association.

The industry, however, is struggling to mine a specific element that is vital to its success: new workers.

In Nevada, about 15,000 people are employed by the state’s mining sector. Nevada Mining Association (NVMA) President Tyre Gray said that puts the industry “about 500 jobs under where it should be”.
The need for more miners is growing as the U.S. looks to secure the domestic supply chain for rare earth elements and other important minerals in electric car batteries and renewable energy such as lithium, Gray said.

“There’s a need to fill the jobs that we currently have open, and there’s going to be a need to fill jobs that are going to be created due to increased demands in the mining sector,” Gray said.
Gray pointed to the proposed lithium mine project at Thacker Pass in rural Northern Nevada.

Atop a long-dormant volcano in Northern Nevada, the giant pit would serve as the first new large-scale lithium mine in the U.S. in more than a decade. The mine, proposed to be constructed on leased federal lands, could help address the near total reliance by the U.S. on foreign sources of lithium, Gray said.

“They’re going to need construction workers in order to develop their mine, but then they’re going to need about 400 full-time employees to run the mine,” he said.
As demand keeps rising for critical minerals, there are fewer skilled employees to fill job openings. All the while, like many employees in the U.S., miners have used the pandemic to reassess their careers. Some have pivoted to new professions while others have retired completely.

In Nevada, the median annual salary of an underground mining machine operator and extraction worker is $52,400. It nearly doubles for mining and geological engineers ($93,800), a workforce segment that makes upwards of $156,000 a year, according to May 2020 figures.

Still, young people aren’t entering the industry at a sustainable rate, officials say. The median age of workers in the mining, oil and gas sector is roughly 43, and about 20% of the workforce is over 55.
Tech has changed historical mining practices, from virtual reality mapping of ore bodies to electric vehicles and autonomous fleets to increased employee safety and mine site productivity.

Mining operators are also starting to run their operations on solar power and use closed-loop systems to limit water usage.

“Yes, we admit, we do move a lot of water, but we use very little water,” Gray said. “Usually less than 5% of the water that we move do we actually use.”

Mining’s embrace of tech and eco-friendly practices is something the industry is working to educate the public about.

After all, Gray said the stigma of mining workers “just killing the earth” needs to be corrected, especially with critical minerals so essential in the transition to renewables and environmentally sustainable technology.

“We have to understand,” Gray said, “as we want this green technology and future, there has to be an understanding that mining is the first link in that. And without mining, we don’t get what we want — we don’t get solar panels, we don’t get electric vehicles.”