When Hector Ruiz left his job in a Nevada casino to enroll in a mine maintenance training program, his family wasn’t sure he made the right decision. “They weren’t too happy at first because we struggled to make ends meet when I wasn’t working,” he says. “But they’re happy now.”
Married with two young daughters, Ruiz, 31, spent two years at Great Basin College in Elko, Nevada, earning degrees in electrical systems and instrumentation technology. In his second year, he was accepted into the Maintenance Training Cooperative Program (MTCP) and received a $5,000 scholarship from Barrick to support his studies, as well as practical experience working at a Barrick mine. In March 2012, Ruiz was offered a full-time job in his field at Barrick’s Goldstrike mine. “There was just a sense of relief,” he says, recalling the day he was offered the job. “I knew I was going to be able to provide for my family. The sacrifice paid off.”
It’s not easy at the best of times for young people entering the work force. Nowadays, as the U.S. and Nevada economies claw their way out of a long recession, it is particularly challenging. The U.S. labor force shrank by an estimated four million people between December 2007 and September 2012, according to Reuters. This was due primarily to a lack of jobs rather than the normal aging of America’s population. This dearth of opportunities is weighing most heavily on the nation’s youth.
In Nevada, the youth unemployment rate (age 16–24) stood at 17.5 percent as of January 2013. That’s well above the state’s overall unemployment rate of 9.7 percent, which itself was the second highest among all U.S. states. “Nevada is still on shaky ground,” says Dana Pray, Recruiting Manager for Barrick North America. “Mining will be a key piece of the puzzle as the state recovers, and there are a lot of great opportunities in this industry for young people.”
Barrick has partnered with Great Basin College on the MTCP since 1994. The company funds about 35 scholarships annually under the program, and many students go on to full-time jobs with Barrick.
“It is critical for us to have this program,” says Anthony Siri, Open Pit Training Supervisor at Goldstrike and a graduate of the MTCP. “Maintenance is one of the key skill areas needed to effectively operate a mine, and it is in short supply. We want to have access to well-trained people who understand our culture, and this program does that for us.”
In addition to supporting the MTCP, Barrick also runs a large summer-internship program that provides on-the-job training to more than 100 engineering and geology students each year. The company recruits students primarily from six U.S. universities, with a substantial portion hailing from the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). “My dad worked at the Cortez Hills mine for about 20 years and that’s where I interned my freshman year,” says Zach Zastoupil, a senior at UNR’s Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering. “During my time there, it seemed like I became part of a family. My crew was always watching out for me because I was the new kid and I had so much to learn.”
Zastoupil interned for three summers with different Barrick operations, allowing him to gain invaluable experience. At Cortez Hills, he helped design a water tank and piping system that improved water supply to the site’s underground operation. At Goldstrike, he assisted with a vibration-control analysis to ensure that blasting from a new section of the open pit mine wouldn’t damage ventilation shafts in the nearby underground mine. “I had a lot of help from the engineers on site,” says Zastoupil, who will begin working full-time as a mine engineer at Cortez Hills in July.
Barrick spends about $1.5 million annually on the summer internship program, the majority of which covers student salaries. The fund also supports scholarships and sponsorships of various events at each of the company’s partner schools. “We make the commitment to visit each school at least three times a year,” Pray says. “That can be for career fairs, classroom presentations, faculty dinners that we sponsor, mine competitions or just a fun night out with the students. We have built strong relationships with the schools, and the program has been very beneficial to us and to the community. It’s something we’re passionate about.”