In its pitch promoting a world-class mine northwest of Lake Iliamna, Northern Dynasty Mines officials have said it could take as many as 2,000 workers to construct and as many as 1,000 permanent employees to operate the mine over its anticipated 30- to 50-year life.
While a full-production mine is still five to seven years away, if the permitting process goes without a hitch, questions are raised of what kind of jobs would be created (see related story, this page), what skills would they demand and what the state's educational community is doing to provide them.
Northern Dynasty says it has work force development and education plans for this year and next that call for coordination between the company and education facilities and programs in the state, including the Mining and Petroleum Training Service (MAPTS) through Kenai Peninsula College, the University of Alaska and vocational education training centers.
The mining company also has established a college scholarship program for high school students, already awarding three scholarships through the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. Scholarship programs with the Lake and Peninsula Borough School District, the Southwest Regional School District and the Bristol Bay School District are said to be planned for 2006.
Northern Dynasty is supporting the Alaska Mineral and Energy Resource Education Fund program, a partnership between private industry and the Alaska Department of Education that provides educational studies that can be incorporated into science and social study courses.
People looking at mining or petroleum careers are likely to find access to the education they'll need through the Mining and Petroleum Training Service, a program established by the University of Alaska in 1979 and now a division of Kenai Peninsula College. According to its Web site, MAPTS has trained more than 50,000 people since it was launched.
Its training schedule includes such titles as "mine safety and health training," "surface and underground mine rescue," and "explosives and blasting," as well as courses in hazardous materials handling and emergency response.
MAPTS director Dennis Steffy, who has spent most of his life working in the mining industry, said a lot of preparation has to be done in advance of a project like Northern Dynasty's Pebble Project just gearing up to meet the educational demands.
The University of Alaska recently named Steffy the statewide lead on all mining, process technology, industrial process instrumentation and mechanical technology training. According to KPC director Gary Turner, Steffy will be the contact person for the state's mining industry, giving the industry one place to go to coordinate needed training programs.
Steffy has been encouraging educational centers to include the General Education Diploma (GED) program, which he called fundamental, because the mining industry has become highly technical.
"It's not just picks and shovels anymore," he said.
Computers direct nearly everything in a modern mine, requiring a high level of familiarity on the part of workers to make things work properly, he said.
In December, MAPTS will begin a program detailing the entire mining process in Alaska "from picking up the pretty rock to closure of the mine," he said, adding that it would look at every mining job that exists 68 different job titles.
MAPTS may not supply training facilities for every job Northern Dynasty will need to fill. However, opportunities for such training will be available somewhere in the educational matrix across the state.
"It will take some cooperation and a fair chunk of resources to get to locations where it's needed," Steffy said.
MAPTS is prepared to deliver trained workers quickly, if necessary. Not long ago, the service was asked to train employees for the Greens Creek Mine on Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska.
"We had to train 316 workers in nine weeks," he said.
Working with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Academy in Beckley, W.Va., Steffy is creating what he called "a hybridized distance-delivery program" to supply some of the technical schooling. Hands-on training is likely to involve bringing students to lab facilities if none exist in their locales.
"We've identified the hands-on training needs and what the capacity is," Steffy said. "I'm preparing a report for Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development now."
As many as seven university units will be involved, he said, including Kenai Peninsula College. He's confident of success.
"We know this industry and we know what has to be done," he said. "There are very specific and very strict rules on what training is needed. We have the curriculum. We need to develop some resources to deliver it across a wide geographical range," he said, adding that Northern Dynasty has offered financial help.
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