Gold glitters for North American mining students

Sun Apr 15, 2012 4:15pm EDT
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By Julie Gordon

(Reuters) - When Travis Howard started his degree at the Colorado School of Mines four years ago he decided to pursue a double major in mechanical engineering and metallurgy to give himself the best chance of landing a high-paying job when he graduated.

Turns out he had nothing to worry about. The 21-year-old, who dropped his mechanical classes to focus on mining after his second year, has accepted a job with Kinross Gold Corp at a starting salary of $64,000 a year plus bonuses.

With graduation still a month away, "pretty much everyone is sitting on an offer or two," said Howard of his classmates, adding that some students were juggling four or five offers.

In fact, students at the Colorado School of Mines are some of the most employable in the country - 94 percent of 2011 graduates from the mining engineering, metallurgy and materials, geological engineering, and geophysics programs have jobs.

The average starting offer across the four departments was $65,868 a year, well above the $42,569 median that the National Association of Colleges and Employers expects first-time job seekers with college degrees to command in 2012.

The sky-high starting wages for fresh graduates highlights the difficulties faced by mining and exploration companies to find and retain skilled labor. In fact, mining CEOs often cite the labor crunch as their No. 1 cost pressure.

The problem is rooted in the low metals prices of the 1990s, when gold was worth $350 an ounce, and mining was the last choice for engineering and science students.

"When the mining industry was not in vogue, the colleges didn't get the numbers coming in," said Nick Eastwood, president of MinSouth and a consultant at Hunter Personnel. "So they shut their courses and got rid of the people who taught it."   Continued...