The first posting this week as I have just gotten back from working on a mine—and earning far less than $200,000 per year. I note the income of $200,000 a year as my email inbox is filled with links to a report on young folk on Australian mines earning $200,000 a year. Here is the introduction to a long and fascinating article:
One of the fastest-growing costs in the global mining industry are workers like James Dinnison: the 25-year-old high-school dropout from Western Australia makes $200,000 a year running drills in underground mines to extract gold and other minerals. The heavily tattooed Mr. Dinnison, who started in the mines seven years ago earning $100,000, owns a sky-blue 2009 Chevy Ute, which cost $55,000 before a $16,000 engine enhancement, and a $44,000 custom motorcycle. The price tag on his chihuahua, Dexter, which yaps at his feet: $1,200.
In Fort McMurray I drove the minus seventeen degrees cold and snowy roads with a PhD who is 32 and brilliant and who works in the oil sands mines. He noted “Engineers do pretty well here, but to get the $200,000 a year you need to drive equipment and work overtime.”
Also in Fort McMurray, I sat at supper with a group of engineers and when I told them that only one percent of the Canadian population earns over $170,000 a year they expressed disbelief, for all of them around the table were above that from oil sands mining. “Who earns less?” one asked in amazement.
Time was when one did not discuss income. Now that miners are getting so much, it seems it is OK to discuss income and tut-tut at the poor folk who earn less.
Personally I do not believe that all mining incomes are that high. I suspect we notice only the outliers and the peaks. We ignore the plains and vallies in between. Indeed if you look at the salary and wage surveys put out by CostMine, a more rational, balanced, and lower income picture emerges. Those who do earn those high sums are generally working very hard in very unpleasant places.
Half the country’s 10 top-paying professions are in mining and related industries, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Depending on experience and qualifications, wages range from $40,000 to $260,000-plus, according to Miningcareers.com. It’s good money. If you want to be part of the boom, the freelance mining engineer and risk management expert Jamie Ross has some advice. First, learn what working in the industry feels like by scouring the internet and viewing video sharing site-mining footage. Clarify why you want to work in the industry, besides money. [But be careful] Ross describes mining work as “dirty, hot and hard”. What’s more, Ross says, you are far from big-city life and the sea’s soothing influence. So mining is only a dream job for workers comfortable with spartan conditions and isolation.
That is a sobering but of advice. Pretty much what I said to the fellow from Afghanistan who drove me home in a taxi last night. “Can I go and get rich in Fort McMurray?” he asked me. Turns out his parents fled Afghanistan when he was seven, he grew up in Pakistan, and his father, a civil engineer, eventually made his way to Canada. But said young man never did finish college so has no skills. I told him of lines of cab drivers waiting in minus seventeen cold at the airport, and he concluded he would stay in the rain of Vancouver.
Point is that it is easy to write about high incomes, great successes, and vast shortages of skilled workers. It is hard to write and harder to read about searing deserts, vast snow banks, untold hours of dull, grinding labor, the never-ending back and forth of the truck over 22 kilometers from the pit to the dump, or the dark and damp of the underground. But the truth is that heat, cold, loneliness, and isolation are a part of those big incomes so beloved of untraveled journalists and bloggers. Think hard before you jump into mining without a degree.