Industry Outlook

A vast array of careers are available to workers of all educational levels, from high school graduates to those with advanced college degrees. Employment opportunities can be found in all areas from laborers such as blasters, miners, or construction equipment operators to clerical, sales, or transportation positions. Employment for engineers, including design, civil, electrical, mechanical, architectural, sanitation, and water supply engineers, or scientists and lawyers is available for professionals with degrees in those fields. Other positions in mining include maintenance, mechanics, machinists, drafters, electricians, and instrumentation technicians.

In addition to major companies, there are countless small shop operators that specialize in various aspects of the industry, such as strip mining, stripping overburden, mineral analysis, drilling mine shafts, and helping companies comply with recently enacted federal environmental regulations that affect the industry.

The coronavirus pandemic caused business closures and an economic slowdown which affected many industries around the world in 2020. The mining industry, which is globalized, experienced a steep decline in revenue during the pandemic. The research group IBISWorld attributed this revenue drop to "changes in commodity prices, reduced economic activity, and shocks to global supply chains stemming from the global health pandemic." The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 is expected to boost the economy. A new administration may also institute policies that further support U.S. mining. A National Mining Association article pointed out that, moving forward, "where battery metals and other mineral outputs are sourced domestically, the U.S. can be a leader in cutting-edge technologies for electrified vehicles, critical defense applications, and a diversified energy supply." As of February 2021, the U.S. mining industry consisted of 82,236 businesses, with a total employment of 495,773 people.

The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that overall employment growth in mining will be slower than the average through 2028. According to the National Mining Association, in 2017 the mining industry employed or indirectly sustained jobs for more than 1.5 million workers. Nearly 312,000 worked directly in mines with around 14,000 support workers. The remainder worked in transportation and other professions connected to mining. That total included underground and surface mine workers, processing plant workers, employees at independent shops and yards, and office staff. Roughly 35 percent of miners worked in coal mining. The market research group IBISWorld reports that the U.S. mining industry is a $642 billion business.

Since the demand for energy, metallic, and nonmetallic minerals is low, opportunities for miners are expected to decline. While coal consumption is expected to increase, it will supply a smaller share of U.S. energy consumption as it is replaced by other renewable, more environmentally friendly sources. Recent regulatory strictures, such as The Clean Air Act Amendments (which went into effect in 1995), which aim to control environmental damage such as acid rain, mandate expensive compliance measures by coal-burning utilities, therefore affecting coal producers on the whole. Technological advances and labor-saving equipment have greatly reduced the number of production workers. For example, advances in longwall and surface mining and improvements in transportation and processing have increased productivity, but require fewer employees.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that of the four areas of mining industries that it studied, only two had shown any productivity gains from 2017 to 2018: nonmetallic mineral mining and quarrying had a slight increase in productivity and oil and gas extraction had a more than 12 percent increase in productivity. Overall, however, the mining industry had a 3 percent decline in productivity. The future outlook for metal mining varies depending on the material that is mined, but for all metals there will be increased competition from international markets. Mining operations in other countries have lower labor costs and are subject to fewer government regulations.

The Internet is expected to have an effect on the mining industry, since it provides access to a larger market of customers and suppliers. Localized mining operations will be able to find and communicate easily with low-cost suppliers, increasing efficiency. At the same time, the Internet will increase the competition among mining operations.