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MARKETANALYST.US / ECONOMY & WORK

This Man Had No Education or Skills in His Twenties; Now Earns $160K a Year as an Underground Miner

Have you ever considered mining as a career? For most of his life, Cory, an underground miner shares his routines and job challenges.
PUBLISHED MAY 18, 2024
Cover Image Source: Mine workers prepare explosive charges by first drilling into the wall and then inserting explosives, 1500-feet underground | Photo by Bob Riha, Jr. | Getty Images
Cover Image Source: Mine workers prepare explosive charges by first drilling into the wall and then inserting explosives, 1500-feet underground | Photo by Bob Riha, Jr. | Getty Images

Growing up in Los Angeles, Cory Rockwell, a 38-year-old works as an underground miner, and this job turned his life around. In his 20s, he felt lost and unsure about his future. He had no education, no skills, no girlfriend, and no children. He realized that if he didn't leave Los Angeles, he would be stuck there forever. So, he packed everything he owned into his truck and drove north on the 5 freeway, ending up in Reno, Nevada, without any plans. He applied for jobs at supermarkets, but a friend suggested he try Geotemps, a temp agency for mining jobs. He didn't know there were mines in Nevada, but he was curious and decided to give it a try.

Image Source: Mine workers prepare explosive charges by first drilling into the wall and then inserting explosives, 1500-feet underground | Photo by Bob Riha, Jr. | Getty Images
Mine workers prepare explosive charges by first drilling into the wall and then inserting explosives, 1500-feet underground | Photo by Bob Riha, Jr. | Getty Images

The agency hired him to work in the little hamlet of Orovada at a lithium mine. His six-month stay turned into a year because of continuous exploratory drilling. After that position ended, he went to Geotemps and found work in a surface mine in Fallon after realizing he liked mining. He transferred to another surface mine three years later, but his ultimate objective was to work underground, so he continued applying to underground mines.

Rockwell is employed by Nevada Copper, an underground copper mine, as a "powders guy". Every other week, he puts on seven 12-hour stints, which is incredibly taxing. He is in charge of inserting explosives into the holes made in the ground at Nevada Copper. At the end of his shift, he ensures no one is underground before detonating the explosives, leaving a pile of dirt with copper ore. The next day, he goes down to the mine, which smells of earth and diesel fuel, to test for toxic gases and ensure it's safe. After that, a colleague loads the dirt into a haul truck, which dumps it into a system that extracts the copper from the debris. Then, the cycle repeats.

Underground mining is nothing like an office job. Rockwell typically works seven days every other week in 12-hour shifts. He wakes up at 4 a.m., takes a 4:45 a.m. bus ride for an hour to the mine without phone service, and then spends another half hour changing and attending the daily meeting. By 6 a.m., he takes an elevator down a mine shaft a mile underground where there is limited fresh air, and around 6 p.m., his shift ends. By the time, he gets home, he is so mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted that he can easily sleep for 20 hours.

Working underground can be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. Not only is the job exhausting, but the conditions underground are also tough. The deeper you go, the hotter it gets. In one part of the mine, there's boiling water coming out of the walls, and he always ends up soaked with sweat, his socks and boots drenched. Mining can also be dangerous. The biggest threat underground is fire, and in an emergency, there are refuge chambers stocked with enough air, food, and water for 12 people for four days. While emergencies aren't common, they do happen. Once, while training a new worker to drive a truck, they received a mayday call. He was responsible for the new workers and, thanks to his OSHA safety training, he knew how to get them to the nearest refuge chamber. Despite his training, it was a frightening experience.

Image Source: Workers at work at a construction site | Photo by Stefano Guidi | Getty Images
Workers at work at a construction site | Photo by Stefano Guidi | Getty Images

Although it's a difficult profession, Rockwell has made friends and is paid handsomely. He enjoys his work and even takes satisfaction in being the dirtiest person in the mine despite difficult working circumstances. The friendship he has with his coworkers is his favorite aspect. He is aware of who is married, who is divorced, the names of their children, and where they frequently hang out after work.

They enjoy their work as well. Occasionally, a three-foot-tall Jack Skellington toy or a Ninja Turtle may be hidden someplace in the mine by someone; it may take years to uncover them. Also, the salary is good. Although his yearly pay varies, the highest amount he has ever made in a year was $160,000. His hourly wage at Nevada Copper is $37, and he receives a bonus every month that varies from $0 to $30 depending on performance metrics like injury avoidance and output targets. The bonus was an additional $6 per hour last month, but it has previously been as high as $27 per hour. Anyone can work in mining, no matter what their background.

He began posting daily workday videos on his TikTok because he wanted more people to be aware that jobs like this exist. More than 131,000 people follow it presently. Through his videos, he also aims to break the stereotype that all miners are conservative.

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