SANTIAGO, May 29 (Reuters) - Companies have stepped up their requests for engineers and other positions at early stage mining projects in Chile, a local recruiter said on Monday, in a further sign of activity warming up in the industry.
Chile is the world's biggest producer of copper, which makes up over half its export earnings. The country also mines gold, molybdenum, lithium and other minerals.
The global commodities slowdown has hurt Chile's economy, leading to a sharp downturn in investment and job cuts over the last three years.
A return to former boom times is still distant. But there are signs of a rebound in recruitment, Pilar Cruz, senior consultant of the mining division at Michael Page Chile, said in an interview.
As well as being good news for Chile's economy -- where unemployment has remained relatively low, but job quality has diminished -- that could be a sign that increased metals output is around the corner after years of belt tightening.
"The roles we're seeing are engineering -- feasibility, design, and environmental approval," she said.
"It's a good sign that in a couple of years, the construction phases will start with different kinds of jobs and a lot more people."
Available vacancies in the mining engineering sector were up between 20 and 30 percent from a year ago, she said.
Projects hiring include Lundin Mining's Candelaria copper, gold and silver project, Codelco's expansion of its Chuquicamata mine to take it underground, a pre-feasibility study by Goldcorp and Teck Resources to join two mines into one called NuevaUnion, and Teck's Quebrada Blanca phase two, said Cruz.
The lithium boom in Chile has also seen a rise in interest from larger miners looking at diversifying away from copper, she added. While still a relatively small market, lithium, used in electric car batteries, has been a rare bright spot in commodities in recent years.
Salaries, however, were generally some 20 percent less than in former years, and that was unlikely to change any time soon, said the recruiter, as companies fight to keep a tight lid on costs.
"These are signals," said Cruz. "I don't think the trend is short-term, it seems to be rebounding. But it won't transform overnight." (Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Sandra Maler)