ANCHORAGE - Finding skilled workers for Alaska mining projects is increasingly difficult as a boom cycle sweeps the state's mining industry.
More than 300 new mining jobs will be added in Alaska this year, a trend that's expected to continue for some time, state officials said. By 2012, about 2,000 jobs will be created in Alaska's mining industry, said Richard Hughes, state minerals development specialist.
With worldwide demand for minerals on the rise and metal prices soaring, new mines are popping up in Alaska. A mining boom also is occurring in parts of the Western United States.
But companies face a severe labor shortage. Because mining was in the doldrums for much of the last decade, many people left the industry, Hughes said. Half of the 25 or so U.S. mining schools have closed, he said.
So companies are getting creative to attract a skilled work force.
Teck Pogo Inc., operator of the new Pogo gold mine near Delta Junction, is offering to pay $10,000 in moving expenses to recruit miners, said company spokesman Karl Hanneman.
Pogo needs to hire more than 100 people by the end of December. The new mine is expected to start producing gold in the first quarter of 2006.
Tim Arnold, Coeur Alaska vice president and general manager of the Kensington gold project north of Juneau, said his company, like other mining firms, is also facing recruitment challenges.
Coeur Alaska is considering steps including signing bonuses and paying moving expenses. Gold production is not scheduled until 2007, so the company has some time to figure out its hiring strategy, Arnold said.
Right now, Coeur is more focused on working with the state, the University of Alaska Southeast and local Native organizations to develop training opportunities, he said.
Alaska has only two places that offer mine training: the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Delta Mine Training Center in Delta Junction, according to mining executives.
Although the pay is good, not everyone wants to work in an underground mine, another factor that makes recruitment difficult.
"You're wearing a raincoat all the time in certain instances. It's not a comfortable environment for some people to work in," said Steve Borell, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association. "However, if you find someone to work underground, it's probably the best-paying job they've ever had in their life."
The average annual salary for a hard-rock miner is $81,760, Hughes said.