Hecla Mining company, owner of Greens Creek mine on Admiralty Island, donated $300,000 to the University of Alaska Southeast on Thursday at a Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
The donation will provide scholarships to UAS’s Pathways to Mining Careers program, which trains students in the latest mining technologies.
One of UAS’s missions is to funnel students into local jobs and train the next generation of vocational workers, Chancellor Dr. Rick Caulfield told the Empire on Thursday. The Pathways to Mining Careers program provides the opportunity for local high school and college students to gain mine-ready skills without leaving town.
“It makes high school students in Juneau all the more aware of the range of job opportunities that exist in mining. That’s not only operating underground, it’s accountants, it’s paramedics, it’s geologists,” Caulfield said.
Those are lucrative jobs. Greens Creek’s average annual salary tops $122,000, according to an annual socioeconomic report Greens Creek commissions from the McDowell Group. Starting salaries at the mine can be in the $80,000 range.
Bolstering vocational opportunities in Juneau is important to Greens Creek as well, spokesperson Mike Satre said, as retaining local talent is easier. Local workers are less of a “flight risk” to leave their jobs, Greens Creek General Manager Keith Malone said, but because mining requires a highly-skilled workforce, it can be hard to find enough locals with a relevant training. Qualified diesel mechanics are particularly hard to find locally.
“There’s no easy button to this, we don’t just magically train up a bunch of people to work. We can’t just expect everybody to be ready to go to meet our requirements,” Satre said. “It takes a long-term investment with local partners to make this happen and we’ve been able to do this with the University of Alaska Southeast.”
About half of Greens Creek’s 414 employees call Juneau home. Greens Creek gives preference to Southeast job candidates, but even so, they still count on 145 employees to fly to Juneau. Out of town talent is so important that Greens Creek even structures their work schedule to accommodate out-of-town employees, who work two weeks, then leave for a week or two.
Students in the Pathways to Mining Technology program start out in the Introduction to Mining Operations and Occupations (IMOO) class either their junior or senior year of high school. IMOO prepares them for a two-week Helca Academy where students learn job skills on site.
The Hecla Academy students — some of whom receive full-tuition scholarships funded by Greens Creek — are then eligible to enroll in the University of Alaska Southeast’s Power Technology program.
Last year the University awarded six full-tuition scholarships to program students. Greens Creek has previously donated $600,000 to the program through two $300,000 donations committed every three years since the program started in 2011.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2228.