Within hours of learning about a Barrick-sponsored training program that could lead to full-time jobs driving haul trucks at its Pascua-Lama project, Yonathan Morales went to the company’s office in his hometown of Alto del Carmen to apply.
Morales was one of 200 applicants for the Heavy Equipment Operators course, and one of two dozen to be accepted for the first phase that began in July.
After successfully completing the in-class portion of the program, which included courses in math, physics and leadership skills, Morales advanced to the three-month internship program that teaches participants how to drive massive 930 Komatsu trucks around the site. “I am thrilled to be working at Pascua-Lama as a mining operator intern,” says Morales.
His goal is to land a full-time position at Pascua-Lama as soon as possible and build a career in mining. He hopes to save enough money to buy a house someday for his family in Alto del Carmen, located in northern Chile about 170 kilometers west of Pascua-Lama in the Huasco province.
A priority for Barrick has been to maximize labor from local communities to build Pascua-Lama, which traverses the Argentine-Chilean border, making it the world’s first bi-national mining project. But recruiting local people with the necessary skill level has sometimes been a challenge. This includes mechanics, electricians and heavy equipment operators, vital skills in a large-scale project like Pascua-Lama, where state-of-the-art mining facilities are under construction.
Socioeconomic conditions in the Atacama region of Chile, most notably in Huasco province, provide some insight into the recruiting challenge Barrick faces. Historically, prospects for the region’s population were constrained by a lack of education and high levels of unemployment, with many in rural areas reliant solely on agriculture to earn an income.
In recent years, the employment situation has seen a dramatic improvement. Most recently construction and start-up of other mining projects in the Atacama Region have played a key role, with companies competing for the same limited labor pool.
“We are aware of the challenge regarding the skilled labor shortage in the region,” says Igor Gonzales, Barrick’s Chief Operating Officer. “That is why we have taken a proactive approach and created this training and internship program so that we can hire more skilled local people.”
Nonetheless, the sheer scope and scale of the Pascua-Lama project has drawn a small army of workers from both countries. About 11,000 people were working on the Argentine side of this vast project as of october 31, 2012. The majority of the project’s facilities are being built in Argentina. Another 1,500 are employed on the Chilean side, where about 75 percent of the ore body is located.
Earlier this year, Barrick hired Fluor, one of the largest EPCM (engineering, procurement and construction management) firms in the world, to assume overall responsibility for construction management at Pascua-Lama. Currently, Fluor is in the process of a major hiring ramp up for the summer construction season at Pascua-Lama. Approximately 1,900 new hires were made in the third quarter of this year, primarily from the province of San Juan and the rest of Argentina.
Gonzales emphasizes that Barrick’s project team is working with Fluor to ensure recruiting and training programs reach local populations. Moreover, the company is taking a long-term view and exploring ways to build the industrial capacity of the local labor force.
“The training we provide improves the skills of young people in local communities so they can better access the local labor market,” he adds. “For example, a trained equipment operator can work for mining, construction or other industries, so the possibilities are wide open. We recognize, however, that a more skilled local labor force won’t happen over night.”
Yonathan Morales says the Heavy Equipment Operators course was challenging, but credits the commitment of the teachers, trainers and people from Barrick to help students succeed. The course provided so-called “hard skills,” such as driving a haul truck, and also “soft skills,” such as conflict resolution and teamwork that Morales says he can use both on-and-off the job. “It changed my environment and my thinking. My life changed for the better,” he says.
Barrick plans to continue the training and internship programs, based on future employment needs at Pascua-Lama, says Hernán Catalán, Head of Training at Pascua-Lama. “Through these courses and internships at Pascua-Lama, we will be able to hire the best people for the job and continue to support training in Huasco province,” he says.