Friday, August 5, 2011

A Few Questions (and some Answers)

What do you do when hard rock geologists are hard to come by (as was the case when geological hiring was making a comeback in the early 2000s after the gold crash of 1997-98?

Normally, a lack of geologists with a required experience level or orientation toward mining, exploration, mineralogy, etc. has resulted in an across-the-board increase in pay for geologists in the industry.

Related Thought: Experienced hard rock geologists aren't necessarily hard to come by at the moment, but everyone I know is pretty busy.

One thing that can be done when geologists are hard to find is to increase recruiting efforts at schools that support mineralogy, petrology, geochemistry, and field camp. If you teach at such a school, you should make sure the industry knows that your school falls into that category. Some companies currently recruit, at least in part, outside the U.S.

Companies can advertise jobs where they will be seen: at schools supporting required classes and at geological societies geared towards mining and exploration such as the Geological Society of Nevada (GSN). Many companies routinely do the latter, and I get emails with the resulting job postings.

An Aside: More basic training is probably offered by some companies now than at any time in the recent past, although documentation of this supposition of mine is sparse. Training geologists to recognize common minerals and rock types should not be necessary. Training geologists to recognize uncommon minerals associated with common ore deposit types has, perhaps, beome more common through the years; many of these types of minerals used to be learned in ore petrography, in economic geology and mineral exploration classes, and in grad school. With the industry booming, many young geologists are bypassing grad school for jobs available now (a practise which is being recommended and supported by many companies). In my early days, it was fairly routine to be sent out to your first drill rig without any, or much of any, introduction to drilling, sampling on rigs, contamination problems, what to think if the driller says X, what to do if the driller says Y, when or how to tell them to shut it down (for a variety of reasons, such as poor sampling, drinking on the job, not showing up at the rig...), and many other things that I mostly just picked up on my own.

What do you do if your contacts in the hard rock world happen to be minimal or out of date (as mine were in the late 1990s and early 2000s)?

You go to places where hard rockers hang out, such as meetings of the GSN or AGS (Arizona Geological Society) or other state geological societies, field trips run by the GSN twice yearly, field trips run by the SEG (Society of Economic Geologists) every year at GSA, conventions offered every five years by the GSN and yearly by the NWMA (Northwest Mining Association), and you take short courses as necessary. In other words, you update or re-create your contact base. This may or may not take much effort, depending on a variety of variables.

What do you do if you happen to be unwilling to pay the going rate for experienced geologists or less experienced geologists with hard rock degrees (as happened to me in the late 1980s)?

A lot of times, you end up doing the work yourself or end up doing less work per time period—in other words, you suffer. If you hire less experienced people or those with an inadequate background (as I have had to do on occasion because of company hiring policies), you get less done, sometimes spending nearly the same amount as if you had paid a higher rate, depending on your overhead. And you kick yourself a couple times while complaining vehemently to your boss about the company pay rates. There is no real fix to this latter situation, except time and hopefully a management willing to buck the trend or status quo. (Your company may get bought or spun off, thus possibly fixing the management problem, as also happened in the late 1980s and probably also at other times.)

How long does it take to train inexperienced geologists to do the tasks at hand?

This really depends on what you need to have done. For a jasperoid-sampling program down ridgelines in Nevada, training time is minimal, perhaps a few days, at most a week if you also need to teach field location skills (GPS should make this considerably easier than in the past—though map-reading skills should still be required, in case the satellites go down or in case your batteries go dead or you drop your GPS in the water or over some cliff), maybe a day or two more to teach 4WD skills (use a helicopter instead!). If you want detailed rock descriptions or unusual mineralogical determinations (by geologists rather than by x-ray) in somewhat complicated alteration assemblages, for example in IOCG deposits and skarns (iron oxide-copper-gold) or in high and low sulfidation gold-copper systems you had better plan on two weeks minimum (often even with experienced geologists) depending on background and mineralogical aptitude—also, consider sending your geologists on an intensive mineralogy or alteration short course or an appropriate field trip. And, be sure to hire geologists with good observation skills! Always!!

As a just-out-of-school geologist, how should I go about getting a job in mineral exploration and mining?

Here, my ideas are possibly somewhat out of date, but see question number two about creating contacts, elicit help from your professors who are hopefully maintaining some contacts, and contact major and some minor exploration/mining companies.

Consider traveling to mining-oriented states like Nevada if you get some encouragement or just to knock on doors; this may not be done as often as it used to be, but I suspect it would still be considered a sign of initiative.

Sign up for the GSN so you'll get job announcements (not just for Nevada). Although many of these postings will be for people with at least some minimal years of experience, you may be able to apply for some of those jobs, and you will get names of people to contact. Also, jobs for entry-level geologists are advertised through these emails; I got one of these as recently as late May.

Other ideas that work are welcome.


Kim Hannula said...

Blatant institutional promotion based on question 1:

Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado (where I teach) has the kind of strength in hard-rock and field geology (mineralogy/petrology/geochemistry/optical mineralogy/structural geology/field camp) that Silver Fox describes, and we graduate about 20 majors per year. If you want to hire a young geologist who knows how to look at rocks, we're a good place to recruit. (We've been sending students to Barrick and Newmont a lot recently, but we also send students to smaller companies.)

Silver Fox said...

Kim, thanks for commenting, and I hope you get some bites from here! It sounds like you already have good contacts.

If anyone else wishes to add their school here - I can't say that recruiters or mining/exploration company reps are reading this blog, but it can't hurt!

Dan McShane said...

Great post. I'll send various young geos to read it.

Silver Fox said...

Thanks, Dan!