UAS program connects with Kensington Mine

Partnership means university students will receive hiring opportunity upon graduation

Posted: Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Students who graduate from the University of Alaska Southeast's power technology diesel program with an emphasis in heavy-duty diesel will be at the top of the hiring list for the Kensington gold mine, according to a new agreement between the mine company and the university.

"Hiring a local workforce has been and will be the key to our success at Kensington as we move forward into production," Coeur Alaska Inc. human resources director Meg Day wrote in an e-mail.

The partners signed an agreement last month after kicking around the idea for several years, according to Chuck Craig, who heads the diesel program and teaches several classes. The partnership also includes an opportunity for an internship with Coeur, which is owned by Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp.

The 28-credit, two-semester program starts Sept. 1. It covers diesel engines, refrigeration, hydraulics, power trains, suspension and alignment, welding and electrical work, Craig said. Eight students are currently enrolled.

The program requires a high school diploma or equivalent. Some students have tinkered with cars or taken diesel classes before. Others haven't.

"We assume that we're starting at zero," Craig said.

On Wednesday, 20 diesel students will tour the Kensington Mine, located on the north side of Berners Bay about 40 miles north-northwest of Juneau.

Eleven of those students are actually high schoolers who are taking an introductory class on heavy-duty mechanics, and the rest are UAS students, Craig said.

They'll see the operations and learn what might be required of someone working there, and view some of the heavy machinery used in the mine.

The agreement doesn't bind Coeur to hire a specific number of people. But Day said two students already in the program will be hired into entry-level jobs after they graduate.

The company has three full-time mechanics now and plans to hire several more once the mine starts up again, Day said.

The Kensington mine hasn't begun producing gold and other metals yet. The U.S. Supreme Court has until June to say whether to reinstate the mine's permit to convert Lower Slate Lake into a tailings pond. The company has said it will develop the mine site either way.

Coeur laid off half of its 80-person workforce last fall to save costs. Day said the company's goal is to hire as many of those people back as possible, and recruit locally in Juneau and Southeast.

When in production, the mine is expected to hire more than 200 people, plus extra workers while the tailings plant is being built. Schedules are generally two weeks on, two weeks off. The industry's average salary is $80,000, according to Day.

The mining industry and the university are working together more nowadays, according to Kristy Smith, UAS administrative manager for the school of career education. Hundreds of mine workers from Coeur, Greens Creek and contracting companies have attended mandatory safety trainings at the university. The university offers a space at UAS where mine companies can do their own trainings, and mine employees have helped out with university-led trainings.

The Greens Creek mine on Admiralty Island is owned by Idaho-based Hecla Mining Co.

"It started as a room where we could do some training, and the partnerships are growing from that," Smith said. "We're very supportive of our mining industry and the contractors, too."

Coeur has donated money to the university, including a scholarship endowment for marine biology or environmental science students with a balance of more than $23,000. The company also has provided training aids, like generators and engines, to the diesel classes.



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