By Sarah Hurst
Mining News Editor 

Red Dog looks to schools for employees

Alaska lead-zinc mine has employed over 1,000 NANA shareholders; challenge now to bring them into the most highly skilled jobs

 

Last updated 11/27/2005 at Noon



Red Dog mine in Northwest Alaska's Arctic is just over half-way to its target of 100 percent NANA Corp. shareholder hire, and operator Teck Cominco is making every effort to increase that proportion. The world's largest zinc mine is on NANA land and working with the local community is an essential part of the business, General Manager Rob Scott told the Alaska Miners Association convention in Anchorage Nov. 4.

In total Teck Cominco has hired more than 1,000 NANA shareholders at Red Dog since production began in 1989, which doesn't include many more who have worked as contractors at the mine. All of the clerical staff at the mine currently are shareholders, as are 75 percent of the equipment operators and 35 percent of the trades personnel, such as electricians. Only one out of 24 technical employees (mining engineers, geologists and environmental engineers) is a NANA shareholder, however.


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"So the areas where they have fallen short are the areas that require additional training," Scott told the convention. "To encourage shareholders to go on to university and to get higher education degrees, we have scholarship programs," he added. This fall semester Teck Cominco is providing scholarships for 19 students entering college. The company also organizes leadership training for children in Kotzebue and the surrounding villages. Local dog-musher and Iditarod competitor John Baker visits the children to provide inspiration.

Company two educational programs

Teck Cominco runs two educational programs for children to show them what working at Red Dog is all about. The Career Awareness program is for grade 9 and 10 students, who tour the mine and have presentations from different departments. The Job Shadow program for grades 11 and 12 is more intensive: "They'll actually stay with a labor employee for the entire three days that they're on the mine site to see exactly what that person does," Scott said. "They'll shadow an electrician, just shadow an engineer, whatever the skill that they're interested in."

The emphasis on young people is especially important in a region where 41 percent of the population is under the age of 18. According to the 2002 Census, the total population of the region is about 7,300, of whom 82 percent, or around 6,000, are Alaska Natives. With 5 percent over 65, the workforce potential is about 3,300. Some people who work at the mine prefer seasonal employment so that they can do their subsistence activities at other times of the year, Scott said.


Red Dog's payments in lieu of property taxes to the Northwest Arctic Borough have funded the construction of several schools. NANA Corp. receives millions of dollars in royalties from the mine. The average shareholder has 200 shares and the dividends paid to them this year were $3.81 a share.

Subsistence advisory committee

A subsistence advisory committee composed of eight Native elders participates in discussions on major issues like permit renewals and closure planning, and brings any local concerns to Red Dog's attention.

"Examples of the advice that they would give us - the road that concentrate is hauled (on) from the mine to the port, we have a caribou migration there annually both north and south and they communicate advice about how to manage the traffic on that road to be careful of the migration," Scott said.

Vehicles have to stop as soon as the caribou come within 300 meters of the road.

The subsistence committee also advises when the whale hunting near the village of Kivalina is over so that the shipping season can start at the port.

Red Dog's proven and probably reserves stand at about 75 million tons in the open pit, which will take the mine through to 2031. The economic possibilities of additional reserves in the area are yet to be determined. "Right now we're producing a little over a million tons of zinc concentrate every year at 56 percent grade, so you can see it contains close to 560,000 tons of contained metal," Scott said. Lead is also produced at Red Dog. "The lead rate comes and goes depending on where you are in the open pit," he added.


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