The Iron Range Mining Association and the state's economic development pros predicted this week that the mining industry  could soon face a "significant"  shortage of workers. 

It's a scenario that is hard to imagine today. Minnesota's entire mining and logging industry only added 200 workers combined in the last 12 months, after laying off thousands in the past decade.

But association officials say more than 40 percent of people working in Minnesota's taconite and precious metals mines are old enough to retire tomorrow. Yet there are lots of projects in the mining pipeline that need workers for the long haul, supporters say.

"Currently, there are not enough young people pursuing the technical or vocational training to fill these and future positions," the association said in a statement issued Friday.

A new study from the University of Minnesota-Duluth estimates that 5,000 Minnesota mining jobs could be created if all the  metals-mining projects currently on the planning table pass the required environmental tests and become operational.  Some mining companies are preparing for that possibility.

Twin Metals Minnesota is working with the Northeast Higher Education District and Arrowhead University to develop customized training programs that will entice students to the field. 

A consortium of community and state colleges launched the Iron Range Engineering (IRE) plan, which places engineering students from Minnesota State University Mankato on mining design projects.

Separately, industry officials are urging the state to expand its FastTRAC job training program so that it applies to the mining trades and not just training in high-tech manufacturing.  Stay tuned.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), is working with the Iron Range Mining Association, Minnesota Mining, Twin Metals and other groups to tap prospective workers for the future.

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