"It's a historical shortage," says Sigurd Mareels, director of global mining for research firm McKinsey & Co. Not just in Australia, but around the world. In Canada, example, the Mining Industry Council foresees a shortfall of 60,000 to 90,000 workers by 2017. Peru must find 40,000 new miners by the end of the decade.
Behind this need for mine workers is a construction boom in China and other emerging economies that has ramped up the demand for iron ore, used to make steel, and other metals used in construction, such as copper, typically used for wiring buildings.
The manpower dearth comes with a hefty price tag. "Inflationary pressures are driving up costs and wages at mining hot spots like Western Australia, Chile, Africa," said Tom Albanese, CEO of Rio Tinto PLC the world's third-biggest miner by sales. "You're seeing double-digit wage growth in a lot of regions."
The shortage is particularly acute in Australia, the world's biggest source of iron ore and the world's second-biggest gold producer.
The Minerals Council of Australia estimates the country needs an additional 86,000 workers by 2020, to complement a current work force estimated at 216,000. "It's a tight labor market and difficult cost environment," said Ian Ashby, president of BHP BillitonLtd.'s iron-ore division. To attract workers, BHP and other companies are building recreation centers, sports fields and art galleries in hardscrabble company towns. BHP said rising manpower and capital costs reduced earnings by $1.2 billion during the first half of 2011, when the company posted profit of $11.2 billion.
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