July 3, 2005


Mining for workers: State's booming industry digs deep for answers to labor shortage (Gargi Chakrabarty, July 2, 2005, Rocky Mountain News)

Cañon City's streets are empty and homes are silhouetted against the gray sky when Zeke Porter sets off for work.

To save on gas, the 24-year-old car-pools with a fellow miner as they drive 60 miles on a one-lane, bumpy trail partly carved out of a sheer canyon wall to reach the Cripple Creek & Victor gold mine. Porter punches in at 6 a.m.

After a 10-hour shift in the millwright shop where equipment is repaired, he punches out and heads back down the mountain to his wife and 1-year-old son. On a good day, he walks through the door by about 6:30 p.m.

This is Porter's routine, Monday through Thursday for the past five years. He is a rare breed: a new generation of experienced, loyal miners whom robust Colorado mining companies are scrambling to recruit and retain.

The state's mining and natural resource sector employed 15,900 at the end of May, the highest in a decade and a 12 percent jump from a year ago. More jobs are on the anvil as new mines are explored and dormant ones are resurrected.

The boom highlights a long-overlooked dilemma: There aren't enough skilled miners in this generation to fill the growing number of jobs.

For one, the handful of trade schools in the state that train electricians, diesel mechanics, heavy equipment drivers and underground maintenance workers can't keep pace with demand.

Mining schools and state universities that pour out hundreds of engineers and geologists each year typically don't offer training in those blue-collar trades.

Also, mining is a lackluster profession. Average salaries of from $68,000 to $87,000 (for coal miners), health benefits, life insurance and vacations are not enough to lure people to this grime-and-dirt work. Never mind that most mines don't even require a high school diploma. [...]

Training is mandatory at mines.

But some mines are taking an extra step, offering in-depth, on-site training in various trades to inexperienced workers. Others are collaborating with community colleges and technical institutes to offer similar training to young people.

The Elk Creek coal mine in Somerset, a 13,000-acre underground mine that straddles the Gunnison-Delta county line, has been scrambling to find experienced underground maintenance workers.

The mine has taken matters into its own hands, even though it means higher operating costs.

Beginning in August, it will train 10 newly hired, inexperienced workers in underground maintenance at the mine site. Soon after, they will be stationed in the mine under the direct supervision of a certified maintenance worker. In a year, they could sit for federally mandated exams to become certified.

"Hiring experienced miners for all our hiring needs is not possible," said James Cooper, executive vice president of Oxbow Mining LLC, which owns the Elk Creek mine in the North Fork Valley.

Three coal mines in the valley, including Elk Creek, produced 18.2 million tons of coal - nearly half of the state's production - in 2004.

The Elk Creek mine is 14 short of its employment target of 314 and is actively looking to hire. Last year, its labor turnover was around 19 percent, lower than the previous year's turnover. But this year, it is on track for 16 percent turnover, a marked improvement since it hired a new manager of human resources in March 2003, Cooper said.

Since fall 2003, the mine has been offering quarterly bonuses of 10 percent over basic salary tied to production and safety targets. Miners work eight-hour shifts six days in a row and then get three days off - resulting in 17 additional off-days in a year compared with typical five-day shifts Monday through Friday.

"We believe there is a whole generation of miners that is missing," Cooper summed up. "Right now, we are hiring a mix of experienced and inexperienced people. We are recruiting all the time."

If Tom Tancredo has anything to say about it those mines will close.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 3, 2005 6:57 PM

Speaking of hard jobs, one of the four missing Seals has been recovered. If you're a praying person now's the time.

Posted by: joe shropshire at July 3, 2005 7:29 PM

joe. Thanks, We'll keep him in our prayers.

Posted by: erp at July 3, 2005 8:09 PM

I should have said rescued. Three more still out there.

Posted by: joe shropshire at July 3, 2005 8:22 PM

Too many legal Americans need jobs and its great that reporters are spotlighting industries so that those who might not be aware of them will be so.
My brother is one of those people who is extremely average. His buddies talked him into going to an electrician's trade school. If he had done his homework, or if we had been looking out for him better, he would not have made that mistake; his degree is worthless.
He is the kind of person who should go into a job like this. Or the black man who offered to mow my yard the other day with an absolutely beat up old car carrying an even more beat up old push mower. It brought tears to my eyes; it hurt my heart so bad. He is an old man trying to compete with illegal immigrant labor who use the very best equipment (they're employed by professional yard improvement companies). What do the younger ones like himself do?

Hopefully, they'll hear about these jobs.

Posted by: emily b. at July 3, 2005 9:45 PM

Why would Tancredo want to close the mines?

Posted by: Bartman at July 4, 2005 7:42 AM


No one will do them.

Posted by: oj at July 4, 2005 8:28 AM


Better that than more Mexicans in CO.

Posted by: oj at July 4, 2005 8:44 AM

"Why would Tancredo want to close the mines?"

Because OJ thinks there aren't enough real Americans to fill the jobs and Tancredo wouldn't allow illegals in to do the work. Sometimes I wonder if the only "real" Americans OJ has met are those he sees at the Dartmouth cocktail parties and Hanover Historical Society meetings.

I love you OJ but I wonder if it wouldn't do you some good to spend some time in flyover country with real men doing the kind of work real men have always done and hear what they think about your immigration ideas.

Posted by: NC3 at July 4, 2005 8:45 AM


As the story points out--there aren't any.

Posted by: oj at July 4, 2005 9:10 AM

I have a relative who went to an electrician's trade school.

He lives in rural Colorado and makes $ 70,000 a year.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 4, 2005 9:40 AM


As the story points out--there aren't any."

The story points out that there aren't any trained. Big difference between that and none willing to work.

This story brings to mind the NYC "Sandhogs", the tunnel workers who have up to three generations of men working underground. Real men do real work and the day we have to resort to the day labor pool to get real men is the day we might as well hang it up.

Happy Fourth OJ. Keep up the good work but try not to muck it up for the men who use their backs as much as their brains....and love it.

Posted by: NC3 at July 4, 2005 9:54 AM

Finding people to handle rebounding industries can take time. In the oilfield, despite the increase in prices over the past several years, drilling activity has been limited at time both because of the lack of infrastructure that was sold off or scrapped in the late 1980s and 1990s, and the lack an available workforce in that area -- though if GM and Ford keep going the direction they've been going, you could see a repeat of the late 1970s, when laid-off workers from the industrial Midwest flooded into Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana to fill the oilfield jobs created by rising prices.

Posted by: John at July 4, 2005 10:39 AM

Too bad the apprentice programs where youngsters learned their trade while they worked along side experienced workers were destroyed. Those old ways made sense, but then the busybodies in OSHA and other regulatory agencies said it was exploitation, these kids needed a minimum wage, they should all go to college, blah, blah, blah.

If these mine owners are serious, let them go to New Europe and see how many strong young men would volunteer to work for them, the same in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Notice I bother to mention Old Europe.

Emily b. If your relative is an electrician, he should come to central Florida. Qualified people in the building trades are practically being kidnapped and held hostage. There are jobs with construction companies and plenty of opportunities for those who want to work on their own. Several of my neighbors are still waiting their turn to have their to have their roof replaced. They're still patched up after the hurricanes last summer and fall.

I like what Bush said today about farm subsidies. There'll be quite a lively time in Scotland next week.

Go George!

Posted by: erp at July 4, 2005 10:52 AM


[M]ining is a lackluster profession. Average salaries of from $68,000 to $87,000 (for coal miners), health benefits, life insurance and vacations are not enough to lure people to this grime-and-dirt work. Never mind that most mines don't even require a high school diploma.

they can't fill the jobs. Those men don't exist anymore. We import them.

Posted by: oj at July 4, 2005 11:40 AM

Oh, for cripe's sake oj. Give this one a rest. At $30 an hour there are plenty who'll do that work.

Posted by: sir bedevere at July 4, 2005 11:52 AM

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) A member of a missing elite U.S. military team has been wounded and taken shelter in a remote part of eastern Afghanistan, a provincial governor said Monday, a day after the announcement that another teammember had been rescued.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 4, 2005 11:55 AM


Not according to the story and having worked on a geoseismic crew in TX that was my experience too.

Posted by: oj at July 4, 2005 1:53 PM

I'm sure this article is of interest to folks around Lead, SD. Lead, of course, is the former home of Homestake, North America's biggest-producing gold mine as recently as a decade ago.

That is, if there are still any laid-off skilled miners around Lead, SD, anymore.

Posted by: Brad S at July 4, 2005 5:38 PM

For crying out loud OJ, your "jobs Americans won't do" meme is stretched to the breaking point. I suspect that a better job of recruiting would have those jobs filled quickly. I know a few folks in the mining industry, but this is the first I've heard of labor shortages in CO. Have lots of American friends doing hot, dirty jobs in the iron mines of northern MI. I worked with 100% Americans in the copper mines of AZ (many of which have now closed). Factor in large mine closures in Butte, Lead SD, Leadville CO, and other locations in the west over the past couple of decades, and it's no wonder there's a shortage of skilled miners. Not too long ago, hard rock miners in the west tended to be an itinerant bunch, moving from mine to mine throughout the rockies.

Posted by: JimBobElrod at July 4, 2005 10:05 PM

The shortage is caused by the many miners out of work? It's a novel theory anyway.

Posted by: oj at July 4, 2005 10:59 PM
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