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Mining’s Workforce Challenge 

Josie Hickel, AMA Workforce Development/HR Committee Chair

With several new mines planning to start production in the next 10-15 years along with the steady operations of the state’s six operating mines, an important task for the mining industry is to be sure that there is a skilled workforce available for what could be a nearly doubled demand. A committee of industry Human Resource and Workforce Development specialists has come together under the Alaska Miners Association and is building a strategic plan to recruit, train, and retain an Alaskan workforce to meet this demand.

With large equipment, remote locations and complex operations, the need will be for a workforce with the necessary technical skills as well as the “soft skills” and behaviors that make for good employees. The goal of the AMA committee is to assure that Alaskans are aware of the job opportunities and the educational pathways that will get them qualified for these jobs.

The Committee, co-chaired by Meg Day and myself, has been working on various aspects of workforce development planning for several years. With the help of Dave Rees, a workforce development expert, we have conducted a needs assessment, developed a priority occupations report, worked with providers to inventory training opportunities, and developed strategies to address industry workforce needs. We have also been working to identify career pathways. Our partners in these efforts include representatives from the University of Alaska, MAPTS, Department of Labor, and other educational and training providers.

AMA has just recently contracted with Madden Associates to produce and publish our very first Mining Industry Workforce Development Plan. The plan will set the stage for industry workforce needs, and set out an approach and action steps to assure we have a ready and available workforce for the future

The Committee has also been working on “out-reach” programs to provide information to schools, communities, and educators so that Alaskans can prepare for these careers. The committee is also working with the University, regional training centers, and other training providers to assure the appropriate training is available and accessible, no matter what part of the state the mine is located in. Alaska Resource Education also recently published mining industry Career Cards, which define various mining occupations. These colorful and descriptive cards that feature employees from mining operations around the state are bound and can be provided to teachers, trainers, and others to help get the word out about the great occupations that the mining industry represents.

Many of the jobs in the industry will require skills and attitudes that are already present in the regions, such as heavy equipment operations. Some require short-term training on mining specific jobs such as mine operators and drillers, and some, like engineers or geologists, require longer-term college-based preparation.

The real challenge for the committee is to help define the strategy for having a workforce with the right skills at the time the industry needs them, whether it is replacement of attrition from current mines or just-in-time for the new mine operations.

Mining jobs accommodate local hiring and provide good long-term career options. They offer good wages, benefits, rotational schedules, training, and opportunities for advancement all in a very fun and interesting industry.

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