Nice piece in yesterday's LA Times Business Section by Pulitzer Prize winner Evelyn Iritani, on the mining workforce in northeast Minnesota. The workforce is aging, but demand for ore is climbing as China and India industrialize. Mining companies are trying to figure out how to keep older workers from retiring and to recruit new workers.
Mining is extremely dangerous, and work schedules are unpredictable. Recent corporate restructurings have reduced worker pay and benefits, even at unionized shops like the one profiled by Iritani. It's the same workplace whose rampant sexual harassment was highlighted in the Charlize Theron film North Country. The company is working to bring more women into the workforce, and to incorporate equipment that will compensate for its workers' aging bones and muscles.
Mining isn't the only industry facing these problems. Construction, truck driving and other industries once dominated by burly, white male workers also have trouble at times meeting labor demand. The construction industry went one route, developing an array of pre-apprenticeship programs designed to bring "non-traditional" workers into the field. Post-deregulation, truck driving companies followed a different path, outsourcing nearly all their labor to "independent owner-operators." As wages and benefits have fallen, the share of immigrants driving trucks across America has grown dramatically.
Which path will the mining industry follow, and is there a role for workforce development intermediaries in it?