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Industries and Higher Education Institutions Partnering to Support New Careers

Companies that require skilled labor have developed programs with local higher education institutions to train the workforce they require, providing a way out for long-term unemployed adults and professionals looking for a career change. Photo by Olly.

While the economic outlook in the United States seems to be improving it is doing so at a slow pace, in fits and starts, and there is no steady upturn yet that this writer has been able to identify. The news both in the US and around the world in regards to the numbers of long term unemployed and the invisible unemployed—people who have either run out of benefits or given up looking—are staggering. While no single solution can fix the problem I believe that every journey begins with small steps and that many small steps add up to equal a mile.

It is difficult when one is employed to realize just how spiritually crushing it is to be unemployed and looking. Even someone with skills and education may find that they are simply in the wrong place for what they can do or that their skills and background are no longer in demand. Sometimes you have to look outside of the box to find a new solution and be willing to change course mid-stream.

The situation I will describe is not for everyone and cannot solve all the problems but I hope it offers a ray of inspiration and hope that there are other ways to get back into the workforce and find new opportunity for a long term career.

I work in the mining industry, specifically in rural northern Nevada where 90% of all US gold production comes from. Nevada has been producing gold for over 50 years and there is no end in sight to the opportunity to keep producing here. The world’s top gold mining rivals both have well developed operations in Nevada, and billions of dollars in new acquisitions and new mine development have been invested in northern Nevada since 2010. In fact the economic downturn was relatively unfelt in this part of the US as housing prices, wages, benefits and unemployment were largely unaffected by the economic downturn. Northern Nevada has the lowest unemployment in the state while most of Nevada suffers from a worse economic state than the rest of the country; a triple whammy of high unemployment (12.6 % in state versus 8.5% federally), high foreclosure (1 in 16 homes versus 1 in 69 homes) and high level of underwater mortgages (58% versus 22%) (CNN, 2012).

In northern Nevada’s regions the opposite pressure has been felt; an unemployment rate of 6% and a lack of skilled workers to fill high paying mining jobs has forced the mining companies to recruit out of the area for new talent.

Modern gold mining is a technical profession utilizing state of the art earthmoving equipment and sophisticated automation and milling technology to extract the precious metal from tons of raw ore. The opportunity exists for skilled workers with only high school credentials to earn $80,000 a year and more in wages for performing skilled mining jobs. The local population in northern Nevada is about tapped out, with the growth of the mining industry and competitors around the world actively advertising in northern Nevada for experienced mining talent to move to Canada, Alaska, Texas, Africa or Australia. It has become clear to the mining companies in the area that a local solution to the workforce shortage was needed. In a play on words on mining’s slogan of “If it isn’t grown it’s mined”; they decided to “grow their own talent” in Nevada.

In partnership with the local community college the world’s top two gold mining companies have funded a Manpower Training Cooperative program at Great Basin College of Nevada. The program curriculum offers a 48-week certificate program in skills that relate directly to the mining profession. Students are taught welding, diesel mechanic, electrical maintenance, instrumentation (requires Electrical first) and millwright or mill maintenance. The program is open to the public but each of the two gold mining companies offer $5,000 scholarships to up to 70 students per year who enroll in the program. The students work full time at the mines through a temporary agency from May to August, and then part time while enrolled in the program. Students who stick with the program, work well while on site at the mines and graduate are often offered full time employment immediately after graduation.

While many of the students are fresh out of high school or in their early twenties, the trend has changed with the economy and students now come in all ages and genders. Mining is an equal opportunity employment that does not demand physical strength, physical fitness yes, but miners no longer use pick axes and shovels.

As an example, an executive chef from Las Vegas who had tired of the wages in the food service industry after 15 years of steady employment moved north, completed the program and now is a successful underground maintenance mechanic. The new mechanic makes six figures a year in salary and production bonuses while working a schedule that works out as 15 days out of every 30 day month!

In addition to civilian career changers many military personnel have been specifically targeted by one of the mining companies in a campaign that recognized the transferable skills veterans can bring to the work site. The military veterans have found a new career that values their can-do attitude, focus on safety and established dependence on teamwork to accomplish the project.

In my 35 years in the workforce in California and Nevada I have seen few opportunities as “golden” (pun intended) as the chance to change careers and become an employee in the long term stable mining industry.



Luhby, T (2012) CNN Money. Nevada’s triple economic whammy. Retrieved from:

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