MINING is not a dirty word, the Minerals Council of Australia maintains, but the industry continues to feel the pinch as young people turn up their noses at big pay packets and choose careers in greener fields.
University enrolments in mining-related courses have been on the decline in Australia since 2014 and despite an increase in commodity prices over the past two years it is showing no signs of slowing down.
The industry provides 4049 jobs in the Rockhampton electorate, injects $744m into the local economy and when new mines open house prices rise and builders get busier.
But despite industry efforts to put teenagers in the regions through school, students shy away from studying mining-related courses.
Enrolments at CQUniversity School of Engineering and Technology have dropped by almost 70 per cent over four years.
In May the mining industry will make a desperate bid to reverse the trend - bringing together companies, universities and the government for an education summit in Melbourne.
Tertiary Education Council's executive director Gavin Lind threatened the industry would have to look overseas if enrolment numbers didn't increase within three years.
The minerals council figures show there were 224 mining engineering enrolments throughout Australia last year, and this year there were just 131. The council predicts this number will drop to 98 next year and 61 in 2020. This would be the lowest since the minerals council started collecting data and much lower than the peak in 2014 of 292 enrolments.
Historically, these figures have mimicked the rise and falls in commodity prices however, this time as prices rose in 2016, 2017 and continue to in 2018 enrolments haven't followed suit. Mr Lind said most universities in Australia were experiencing single digit enrolments in mining engineering courses this year.
"Mining has become not a necessarily attractive industry to join," he said.
He said activism had spread the perception that mining was a dirty business.
"But...it is a really exciting industry to work in," he said.
"It is not all about working underground or with big machinery, it is an industry that is embarking on very interesting automation, data science and robotics."
Mackay Conservation Group co-ordinator Peter McCallum said the industry had itself to blame focussing on profits over its responsibility to the environment.
Resource Industry Network director Mick Crowe agreed and said the mining industry was losing the marketing battle to environmentalists.
"Someone looking at a career in mining at the moment would be thinking it is not a very sexy industry," he said.
"The upside to this (drop in enrolments) will be better careers and rewards for people joining the industry."