HIBBING — Through the economic ups and down, the mining industry has continually drew young people to pursue work related to the field.
For some, the allure of a high-wage job is the selling point. Others see new mines opening up and old miners prepping for retirement as signs that jobs will be available.
Some knew from a very young age that they wanted to become a miner, others took longer.
The motivations fueling the next generation of miners in Northern Minnesota can be vastly different, but they all share the motivation and end goal to find work in the industry.
Dan Buria, a second-year student at Hibbing Community College (HCC), knew fairly early on that he wanted to work in the mines. He got a first-hand look at the industry as part of his high school job at Minnesota Industries in Chisholm, and said the variety of work done
at mines drew him in pretty early on.
“I’ve always liked working with my hands,” he said. “So the mining environment just seemed right.”
Hands-on work is a driving factor for many others looking for mining jobs in the future too.
Nick Perrington has been working construction since he graduated high school last year. He said he doesn’t plan to go to college, but would like to use his experience running equipment at the mines.
“I grew up in a logging family, so I ran equipment my whole life,” he said. “That’s what I do, and that’s what I love.”
The proximity of mines was also a major selling point for Perrington, whose construction jobs sent him to North Dakota and Iowa for months at a time.
“I’d rather be an hour away from home than 10 hours away from home,” he said.
Dave Wherland, in his first year at HCC, said he realized after graduating high school that he loved the area and the outdoor activities available, so the mining industry seemed like the logical choice.
“At first I didn’t want to, but then I realized how more and more I wanted to stay up here, because I just like the environment like woods and going fishing and hunting,” he said.
The chance to stay close to home is an enticing prospect for many young people looking at the mining industry, said Rick Mayerich, industrial systems technology instructor at HCC.
“There’s a reason why the kids are here, because they want to stay here,” he said, adding that the vast majority of his students are from the area.
Other students are drawn by the money signs, as there’s no industry that pays as well as mining in the area, he said.
Jacob Coyle, another student at HCC, said the chance for high-paying work led him to come to the Iron Range from Duluth.
Of course, the pay wouldn’t matter if no mines were hiring. The possibility for openings in the near future was something the aspiring miners said they at least had in the back of their minds.
“It’s booming right now,” Coyle said. “There’s a lot of job openings and many mines on the Range.”
The oft-discussed PolyMet Mining project north of Hoyt Lakes was one example Coyle pointed toward for future openings.
“If that opens up, there’s going to be so many job openings,” he said.
He wasn’t alone in his support for the project among his classmates. You’d be hard pressed to find a PolyMet critic among the students at HCC. For them, the project means possible future employment.
Mayerich said along with mine openings, students should be encouraged about their job prospects because mining industry projections show a slew of retirements coming in the next few years. Some expectations should be tempered, however, because the retirings will likely be gradual, he said. It’s unlikely the hirings to replace those positions will resemble the mass hirings seen in the mid-1970s, he said.
“I don’t see it as a mass thing,” Mayerich said. “They have to be replaced, of course, but they’re not going to be retiring in droves.”
With the gradual future openings in mind, Wherland and Perrington both attended the Minnesota WorkForce Center’s Mining Industry Day in late January to get their names out to employers.
The event drew about 800 like-minded people
of all ages, and featured almost all the major mining companies in the area as well as numerous mining-related businesses.
Wherland said the event left him encouraged about his future, while Perrington said he got a lot of positive feedback from companies he was interested in. Both said they know they’ll have to show work ethic to get the job they desire.
Hard work is among the first things mining representatives will tell students they look for in a job candidate, Mayerich said.
“Some have it and some don’t, and I try to work it into them one way or another,” he said.
For Buria, in his last semester at HCC, the hard work looks to have paid off. He’s currently in the hiring process with ArcelorMittal Minorca Mine.
If hired as a diesel mechanic, he’d leave college for the mines in what would basically be a work study agreement between HCC and Minorca.
After some discouragement from not hearing back from employers, Buria said he was thrilled to finally get his chance.
If the hiring is completed, Buria would be the newest member of the next generation of miners on the Iron Range. Looking forward, he said he knows he’d like to stick with the mine that hires him for years to come, but the versatility of roles that drew him into the industry in the first place is something that he’ll hope for in his career.
“It just depends on how things go,” he said. “At least you have the option in the mines where you might start turning wrenches and move elsewhere after a while.”