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Nevada’s mining workforce lags behind as demand for critical minerals increases

A man in a hard hat stands in front of large mining equipment at a mine site.
Courtesy of Nevada Mining Association
Tyre Gray, president of the Nevada Mining Association, poses in front of large mining equipment during a tour of a Nevada mine site.

The U.S. mining industry is struggling to produce something vital to its success: new workers. That’s true in Nevada, where the need for more miners is growing as the demand for critical minerals like lithium increases. KUNR’s Kaleb Roedel spoke with Nevada Mining Association President Tyre Gray to learn about the sector’s labor shortage and what’s being done to bridge the gap.

Kaleb Roedel: Many industries across Nevada are experiencing labor shortages right now. How has the mining sector been faring from a jobs perspective during the pandemic?

Tyre Gray: So the great thing for mining is that we were considered to be critical. And really, when we look at why that is, mining is the first step in the green supply chain, right? We are the first link in that chain. And so, as we are pivoting toward a green economy, mining has to be at the table. Mining has to be operating because without those raw minerals, we don’t have solar panels, we don’t have electric vehicles, we don’t have the ability to have this conversation today with the microphones and the computers, right?

A man wearing headphones speaks into a microphone inside a recording studio. He is smiling.
Kaleb Roedel
KUNR Public Radio
Nevada Mining Association President Tyre Gray answers a question during an interview at KUNR in Reno, Nev.

And so having that ability to operate, luckily, we did not see the job loss that others did. But the industry as a whole has consistently been 500 to 1,000 jobs below where it should be. And so, we’ve actually started some programs through the association. One of those programs is what we call Mining Vegas for Talent. It is a true partnership between ourselves, Nevada Careers and Nevada Partners in order to go into neighborhoods in Las Vegas that have not necessarily been exposed to mining careers.

Roedel: I’m glad you brought up that Mining Vegas for Talent initiative. I saw a report that the association is actively hiring from Black and diverse communities in the Vegas area. What is the status of that initiative so far?

Gray: Yeah, thanks for asking. So look, in 2022, my agenda is very clear. I call it the two D program. And so number one is — the first D — is to demystify. We have to demystify what mining is here in Nevada. Again, I think a lot of times, people think of the pickaxe, Yosemite Sam character. And that’s really not what it is. I mean, we’re very high-tech. And to ... peg our industry as an industry that has not developed with technology is, frankly, unfair, right? When you go to a mine site, you see drones, you see autonomous vehicles, you see sophisticated mapping systems. And so we have to demystify that for people so that Americans, and Nevadans in particular, are comfortable with having mining activity within the state. So that’s number one.

Number two, for me, has been to diversify the industry. Again, with these types of wonderful, good, American dream jobs, when we look at our diversity numbers, we fall behind other sectors. And so again, a person of diverse background, that is something that’s important to me to make sure that the opportunity is spread out evenly. And so we’ve been working really closely with that program.

I’m happy to report that that program has hired over 20 people so far, and we had, kind of, our initial kickoff toward the end of 2021. And it’s a win-win. ... I always say it’s kind of a three-prong: It’s a win for the company, because again, we get to have employees, and hopefully, we get to produce more. It’s a win for the state because as we produce more, our taxes go up. And it’s also a win for the individual because, I mean, they’re no longer reliant upon the state social safety net or being underemployed. But they’re also able to have full gainful employment and be a contributive, proud citizen of the state of Nevada. It’s an all-around win.

Roedel: Roughly how many people are employed by the state’s mining sector right now?

Gray: Yeah, so we use a term, 37,000 people, and that really encompasses the mining supply chain. So that encompasses those who are actually at mine sites, but then also those contractors and vendors that kind of spill out of out into the mining sector.

Roedel: Lithium is obviously a key ingredient for batteries, for electric vehicles. Is the demand for jobs in the workforce to be built up? Is it going to be even greater as companies come to Nevada to try to mine that critical mineral?

Gray: Yeah, so you picked up on that real quick, man. Yeah, so if today we are already 1,000 jobs below, as we continue to develop new mines, that demand is only going to grow, which is why we are intentional about working with teacher workshops to try to get kids education around mining, extraction and environmental. One of the programs that we run through the association is called the 360 internship. And so we have students from different colleges around the nation that will apply to have an internship here in Nevada, where we pay you to work on mine sites, but you also get to spend a rotation with the Bureau of Land Management, the BLM, so that you actually see about the regulation side of mining, and that’s really meant to bring folks who maybe weren’t thinking about mining into the fold.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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