For a variety of reasons, the employment in the copper industry is somewhat difficult to define:
- Exploration does not necessarily target specific metals, it looks for valuable minerals. Of course, nobody will be displeased to strike copper!
- Copper is seldom mined alone - it comes with a variety of byproducts.
- As one of our members sometimes says, 'half the periodic system passes through a copper smelter', showing again how intertwined copper is with the wider metals industry.
- Finally, copper fabricators and wire & cable companies are very often multi-metal companies, processing copper as well as other materials.
- Most copper companies will work with a mix of employees and on-site long-term contractors.
- Copper mining creates indirect jobs in the industries using copper. E.g. in Chile, it is estimated that for each job in a copper mine, 3.7 jobs are created in other sectors of the economy.
Still, we can try to derive a sensible number using two different approaches which yield approximately the same result:
According to the sustainability indicators, the Copper Alliance members surveyed employ about 300,000 people on average per year (note 2). Considering that participating members represent about 40 - 50 percent of global annual copper production, total employment in copper production would be somewhat more than double this figure: 667,000 employees.
A simple productivity model
An alternative approach is to look at productivity indicators for the various stages of the copper supply chain:
- Mining: we observe numbers in the range of 15 ... 90 tonnes of copper per employee (10% to 90% percentile). Based on figures for 14,9 million tonnes of production (70% of world production), the average works out as 37 tonnes per employee, and the median is 34.
- Smelting and refining: here, we observe 143 ... 430 tonnes of copper per employee, based on 12.2 million tonnes of production with an average of 241 tonnes and a median of 230.
- Fabrication: based on a sample of 17 large fabricators, representing about 25% of global production of fabricated copper products, we find 12.4 employees per ktpa of copper product.
Based on typical production figures in a non-Covid year, we can derive the following employment numbers:
- Mining: 20 million tonnes production -> 540,000 employees (based on average labor productivity)
- Smelting & refining: 24 million tonnes production -> 100,000 employees (based on average labor productivity)
- Fabrication: 24 million tonnes production -> 257,000 employees (based on the median labor productivity)
- Total: 897,000 employees.
> To reconcile both numbers, observe that Copper Alliance's member survey cover only the stages of mining, smelting and refining. Hence the total for these two stages in the simple model - 640,000 employees - is within 5% of the survey figure.
We can conclude that around 900,000 people directly work for the global copper industry from mining to fabrication. Considering the vast amounts of people working in exploration and some specialty sectors not included, we round it to an even million.
- The labour productivity indicators have been collected by Copper Alliance research benchmarking 35 mining operations, 18 smelters and refiners and 17 fabricators. For confidentiality reasons, we cannot share the data, but we welcome your own benchmarks and comments on the above indicators.
- The results of the member survey have been reported as part of Copper Alliance's project on sustainability indicators.
Last update: December 22, 2022
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