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By Shane Lasley
Mining News 

Alaska develops new core-drill training

Rural Alaskans get shot at rewarding careers through groundbreaking program that certifies world's first core-driller apprentices


April 26, 2009

A first-of-its-kind core-driller apprenticeship program is providing rural Alaskans with the training and certifications that will enable them to work at mining projects close to their homes in the bush.

"This training is for Alaskans who live in the remote areas where our natural resources are being developed," said Alaska Labor Commissioner Click Bishop. "Once trained, these Alaskans will be employed in high-paying, high-skilled jobs in their towns and villages."

The nationally certified apprenticeship for core-drillers is not only a first of its kind in the United States, but it is the first core-driller apprenticeship in the world and could set the standard for core-driller training globally.

"This occupation has never been done in the country before. And even in other countries that really embrace apprenticeship, it's not done there. In Canada and in Australia, they have core-driller training, but they do not have apprenticeships for core drillers. We led the charge on this," said Gerry Andrews, Apprenticeship Coordinator for the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

"One design aspect of this core drill program is that we can share it with the Canadians," Andrews told Mining News. "The steps that we took to design the apprenticeship program are the same steps that the Canadians would use for their apprenticeship programs."

Creating a registered apprenticeship

The strength of this unique program is the result of the state and federal governments teaming up with educators and miners to create a nationally certified apprenticeship that meets the needs of industry and Alaskans who are looking to work and advance their skills in mining.

To create the nationally certified apprenticeship program, the state Labor Department joined efforts with the U.S. Department of Labor Employment Training Administration's Office of Apprenticeship. With nationally recognized certification, the apprenticeship will give trainees a way of readily showing that they are trained and have the necessary experience to do the job.

"It is the first-ever curriculum in the history of the United States for core drilling, and it's a registered apprenticeship program, so once they get their certificate, they can go anywhere."

Steve Borell, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association, applauded the program. "I think it is a win-win for everybody," he told Mining News." If a worker gets laid off, and they want to go to work somewhere else, they have a way to prove they have the experience. They have the training they say they have."

Good to have a job

While the certification can be taken to exploration projects anywhere in the world, the program's primary purpose is to provide rural Alaskans with the skills needed to work at mining projects in the regions where they live.

"Our goal is to increase the ability of companies to hire locally and keep dollars in Alaska, helping raise the standard of living in our rural communities," Stone said.

Core drillers in Alaska earn an average wage of about US$25 per hour, making it an attractive occupation to rural residents. Most of the state's mineral exploration jobs are located in remote areas where there are few other opportunities for employment.

"This is a win for the state to have an effective training program for industry." Borell said. "It is especially a win for the rural communities that have people who need the jobs. This is a way to provide training for them."

Sam Jones, a four-year drilling veteran at the Red Dog zinc-lead mine in Northwest Alaska and a member of the inaugural apprenticeship class, may have summed up the program's benefits best. Said Jones: "It's good to have a job."

Developing curriculum

Once planners settled on a concept for the apprenticeship training program, a curriculum had to be developed. The state Labor Department approached the University of Alaska's Mining and Petroleum Training Services. MAPTS, which has trained more than 50,000 workers over the past 30 years, is the largest trainer of its kind in North America.

The state Labor Department and MAPTS teamed up with the mining industry to identify the duties and tasks needed to be a core driller and created an educational standard for the occupation.

"By partnering with industry, we are developing a premier work force development model that will meet employers' needs," Stone said.

Two levels of training

The apprenticeship program offers training for both entry-level drillers and a more advanced program for individuals who have previous drilling experience.

"There are two types of workers that we are focused on; one is incumbents we want to take from being driller helpers to being full-fledged drillers, and the other is entry-level people," Stone said.

Both entry-level and experienced trainees participate in 15 days of classroom studies, including five days of Occupational Safety and Health Association training and 10 days of classroom training targeted at their experience levels.

The entry-level students also will work 15 days on a core drill rig. This will provide participants new to drilling with an opportunity to experience what it is like to work on a drill rig before being thrown into a production environment.

Program provides key training

Brian Janti, another member of the 18-apprentice inaugural class to receive the core drilling apprenticeship, said the training is helpful, especially for the newer guys who don't have as much experience.

"For people who have never seen a rig, this is great," he said.

Janti, who is from Newhalen, a village of less than 200 people located about 30 miles, or about 48 kilometers, southeast of the Pebble Project, did not know anything about drilling when he started as a driller's helper at Pebble in 2004.

"When I first got on a rig, I didn't know what a pipe wrench was," Janti admitted.

After classroom studies are completed, participants in the advanced group are certified as core-driller apprentices, enabling them to earn a good wage while gaining additional experience to climb to the level of journeyman drillers.

Janti hopes the training and certification will be the ticket that he and other young people from rural Alaska need to advance their drilling careers.

"I really hope this certificate will enable me to show proof that I can operate a drilling rig," he said.


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