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National View: More mining will require more education, training for miners – Duluth News Tribune

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News articles discussing the labor crisis across industries in the U.S. are everywhere these days. Skilled jobs are going unfilled. With the current focus on increasing domestic mining, it is vitally important to ensure that a skilled workforce is available to meet its labor demands today and in the future.
Increasing domestic production of minerals will help ensure our energy and minerals security. However, without a properly educated workforce, it will be difficult to reach our goals.
Breakdowns in supply chains over the last two years have forced Americans to realize we often do not know where products we love are sourced and produced. The lack of a small chip manufactured in a foreign plant can limit the ability of a person to buy a new vehicle; the withdrawal of America from Afghanistan highlighted the importance of critical mineral deposits with China dominating the market; and, finally, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Europe’s dangerous reliance on Russian oil and gas resources made all of America rethink our reliance on foreign countries for critical minerals.
President Joe Biden recognized very early in his presidency that America must reduce its reliance on countries like China and Russia for essential minerals. More recently, he supported a bipartisan request to use the Defense Production Act to accelerate domestic production of the minerals used to manufacture lithium-ion batteries. U.S. Sen. Roy Wyden of Oregon introduced a bill to expand domestic critical mineral production. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held two hearings: on March 31 on “Domestic Critical Mineral Supply Chains” and on April 7 on “The Scope and Scale of Critical Mineral Demand on Recycling.”
These important conversations need to also recognize that increasing domestic mining comes with a parallel need to increase the U.S. mining labor workforce.
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Mining companies have struggled for years to maintain a fully trained and staffed workforce. When young people are asked whether they have ever thought about a career in mining, the typical response is: ”We still mine in the U.S.?” Almost everything in our day-to-day lives contains mined materials, but students are not typically exposed to classes that teach about finding, developing, and producing raw materials. The U.S. has seen a steady decrease in the number of colleges and universities with accredited programs related to mining engineering, dropping from 25 in 1980 to only 14 in 2020.
Technically trained individuals in trades such as welding, machining, maintenance, and computer and electrical technology are also in short supply. It is imperative that U.S. mining schools expand and support not only the professional mining engineering, metallurgy, process engineering, and geology programs, but also related trade programs.
If the U.S. is to successfully increase domestic mining and achieve the goal of mineral and energy security, we must act now to create an educated, qualified workforce by supporting our mining colleges, universities, and trade schools as they work to recruit, educate, and retain future mining professionals.
In a March 24 statement, Senate Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee Joe Manchin said, “A strong and skilled mining workforce is critical to reducing our foreign supply chains, increasing our deployment of renewable energy technologies, and maintaining our energy security. In the last few years, however, this workforce has decreased as universities across the country struggle to enroll students in their mining and geological engineering programs.”
Ranking-member Sen. John Barrasso said, “Our bipartisan legislation will create opportunities for mining schools to strengthen their programs and recruit the next generation of American Energy producers.”
The Women’s Mining Coalition couldn’t agree more.
Emily Arthun of Gillette, Wyoming, is coordinator of the nonprofit Women’s Mining Coalition ( wmc-usa.org/ ). She wrote this for the News Tribune.

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