An unprecedented shortage of skilled underground mine electricians has sent mine employers scrambling in the last few years. While exact numbers on the mineworker deficit are difficult to pinpoint, the fierce competition between mining companies seems to speak for itself.

“We know that many mining operations are experiencing real problems with attracting highly skilled individuals for most all of their mining occupations,” says Terry L. Bentley, chief of safety for Coal Mine Safety and Health, Arlington, Va. “Electricians are even more scarce, so I would say that the situation is indeed somewhat bleak for the near term.”

What is causing the shortage? Bentley points to the growth of the mining industry in recent years combined with the retirement of many in the baby-boom generation. Due to this skilled-labor shortage, Bentley says individuals who possess the following characteristics are particularly in-demand with coal mining companies:

Hands-on experience. According to Bentley, previous mining experience, construction backgrounds, mechanical and diagnostic skills, and even certain training obtained from military service can be especially attractive for mining companies recruiting electricians.

Formal education. Vocational or technical school training or degrees in electrical engineering are highly desired by companies short on experienced underground mine electricians.

Computer skills. Some computer-related education or degrees in computer science would be beneficial, especially given the level of technological development that is associated with modern mining equipment,” Bentley says.

Beyond these more tangible credentials, Bentley says mining companies are interested in individuals that enjoy problem solving and possess strong troubleshooting skills.