Parker Schnabel was a very successful miner at a very young age, and his success has been shared with millions of viewers on Discovery’s Gold Rush. So naturally many people wonder: how can I work for Parker Schnabel?
If you’ve been following Parker Schnabel on social media recently, he’s given you the chance to learn how to get into the independent gold mining game.
Parker has been in the placer mining business most of his life, getting his start by mining with his beloved grandpa, John Schnabel, at a young age. By 16 he was running the Big Nugget Mine when his grandfather retired and turned it over to him.
According to the Gold Rush star one of the most frequent questions he gets is how to get into the gold business. Recently he’s posted a few videos on his Facebook page with advice on how to get your start as a miner, and we’re going to sum up those points for you here.
Tip #1: Build a broad skill set with heavy machinery – and focus on the dozer and the excavator
Placer mining, Parker says, is a really niche business and there aren’t a lot of people doing it. Those who are have usually grown up in the business or know someone personally in the business who has taught them and given them the “in” they need to get on a team and get experience moving dirt.
If you aren’t lucky enough to be one of those people then having a wide range of skills with heavy equipment will be invaluable. Mine operators will look for guys who have moved a lot of dirt for landscaping, built roads, or worked with gravel in construction applications. While specialists get hired at times, those who have a lot of hours on a wide range of equipment usually get looked at first – and of course the ability to diagnose and fix problems with equipment is mandatory at remote mining camps.
The two most important pieces of equipment to know how to operate are the dozer and the excavator. Parker recommends having a lot of hours on those for the best chance to get a job at a placer mining site operation. Being a good rock truck driver or loader operator is a great start but you really want to log in those dozer and excavator hours if you can.
Tip #2: Don’t waste money on those schools that will teach you how to run equipment (like excavators, dump trucks, front loaders, etc.)
There are schools that will teach people how to run construction equipment but Parker says he doesn’t recommend them. Why pay to learn skills you can learn on the job? The biggest problem he has found is that while those schools will teach you how to run the equipment, they don’t teach you how to think about moving dirt. That in itself is a valuable skill.
He goes on to explain that if someone shows up to a job site as a laborer, he or she will stay on if they show real interest and passion for what is happening on that job site. Start out in road construction and learn everything you can about every piece of equipment they have there. A lot of that will be useful for mining. You might start off at the bottom but if you show real interest, you’ll be taught how to run equipment because it’s in everyone’s best interest to have well rounded employees with a wide variety of abilities.
Overall, the schools just don’t give you the time at the controls needed to be a truly effective operator – and he wouldn’t consider hiring someone who just graduated from one of those programs over someone with hundreds or thousands of hours of experience in the field and understands how to truly move dirt.
BONUS TIP: Make sure the machinery controls aren’t opposite of what you’re used to working with.
In some countries the equipment controls are opposite of what we use in North America. When you get into a new machine for the first time, it’s always a great idea to make sure the controls work how you’re used to and if they don’t make sure you’re able to get in some practice time. Some guys can relearn controls quicker than others.
In the second video Parker talks about how being a gold miner is more than simply having a wide skill set, there is also the interpersonal side and the ability to live well in remote areas for long periods of time in rough conditions. The lifestyle is one of the most unique challenges (or opportunities) for new miners, and Parker has several reality checks and tips for folks who think they want to get into the industry.
Tip #3: Be prepared to be remote and to have spotty communications with the people back home. You really have to be prepared to be disconnected from the world for long periods of time.
Most mining operations are remote, some only accessible by flying in and out. Others, like Parker’s current operation, expect workers to stay there for the majority of the mining season – which is usually from April 15th through October 15th with no set schedule for breaks to go home. Usually he’ll give his miners 10 to 14 days to go home, all at once, at some undetermined point in the season. Though it’s not common, he does allow families to come up for visits.
Internet coverage has gotten better in recent years but it’s still really slow and not the most reliable, especially in the more remote areas where mines tend to be. To make matters worse, everyone tends to use the limited internet service at the same time before and after their shifts, making already unreliable service even more spotty.
Tip #4: Be prepared to not only work with the same people but live with them 24/7 for months at a time.
An often overlooked skill to have is knowing how to get along with others in stressful, close quarter situations. You are going to be with the same group of people for months on end. You are sharing housing, bathrooms, meals, and down time with the same group of people. There’s almost no privacy or time for yourself. You need to be able to deal with different personality types and communication styles. Working that close and for that amount of time, you become like a family, and like any family it can become a great experience or a particularly difficult one depending on how everyone gets along. Being able to work through issues and problems that come up is vital to making a career in the placer mining business.
Tip #5: Be prepared to live in rough conditions.
Camp life is not easy. You live where you work and spend your downtime due to the how remote most mining sites are. They are loud, dirty and lack a lot of comforts we’ve come to take for granted, like extra space and easy utilities like heat, air conditioning, on-grid electricity and running water that comes from a city system. You will be living close to nature and all of the elements and creatures that come with it.
Having a positive attitude and embracing the rough lifestyle is important to surviving a six month mining season.
Tip #6: Be prepared to work a lot of hard hours
Depending on the site you’re working on or who you’re working for, the amount of hours and days or nights you work can vary but one thing they all have in common is this: you are going to be working a lot. Common schedules are 12 hour days, 12 days working, 2 days off. If there is a night shift you could be working 12 hour days for 4 days, then 12 hour nights for 4 nights then 4 days off. Depending on how big and remote the mining site is, some operations allow people to work for two weeks and then fly home for a week.
No matter how the work schedule pans out, all those hours of hard work can take a toll on people. When you have to work nights, your days are flipped and usually you are working with a smaller crew in the dark. It’s usually colder, the weather is crap and you have to deal with most breakdowns with only one or two other people working to help. Plus you can’t complain about eating bacon and eggs for dinner every night, which brings us to the bonus tip…
Bonus Tip: Don’t Piss off the cook (or any other camp staff)
The cook is one of the most important roles that can make or break camp life. Good food is one of the few luxuries he makes sure his guys get in camp. According to Parker, you do not want to piss off the cook. If any arguments between the miners and the cook escalate to the point where he hears about it, he will always side with the cook. A good cook willing to work in the rough conditions of a mining camp is hard to find, and he knows it’s more important to keep him or her happy than any individual machine operator.
GETTING INTO THE INDUSTRY
Tip #7: Figure out what type of mining operation you want to work for.
There are small and large mining companies, placer mining and hard rock mining, and many different flavors of each type of operation. Which type you want to work for is personal preference.
Most placer mining operations like Parker’s are small compared to the large hard rock mining operations that typically work in the same areas as the placer mines.
Both have pros and cons so it comes down to what you are looking for in a mining operation. The large scale mining companies usually are a lot easier to get a job with if you’re a new miner. They tend to be more structured, things are going to be on time, have less equipment breakdowns, and pay on time. The cons though are typically they only pay industry standard, meaning the lowest they can, they offer less perks, they tend to give you the least they can get away with within the industry standards until you move up in the company. Larger companies tend to have more of a corporate feel rather than a family type feel for newer employees.
With a smaller company you are more valuable because they have less people, every person is an integral part of the operation to keep it running. You can normally negotiate for a larger percentage since there are less miners on-site. It’s also easier to get in some hours on equipment you might not be strong in to help build those skills. The skills you bring and build on matter more to a smaller operation than a large one.
A big risk of working with a smaller operation is tying your financial success to the success of the operation, which is less stable than big operations. You might not get paid on time, or even get paid at all if the operation goes belly up. This biggest obstacle to working for a small operation, though, is getting your foot in the door in the first place. Because of the higher earning potential and the close-knit teams, it’s a lot harder to get a job with a smaller company than a larger one. Which leads us to the next tip Parker has.
Tip #8: Start out with a big mining company to get a feel for the industry
There are a lot of large hard rock mining operations not only in the Yukon but all over Canada and Alaska. A quick Google search will give you a list of the top ones in whatever area you want to work in. Usually, if you show up around the start of a season in a mining area looking to get hired, you’ll find a job with one of the large companies, which isn’t unlike our own advice for getting a job as a Bering Sea gold diver.
There are a few things to watch out for, regardless of the size of the operation. If you show up to a site where no one has been working there for years, that’s a red flag. Why haven’t people stayed or returned each season? Have they had problems paying in the past, is there a problem with getting meals or is there an issue with the housing conditions? If you are committing yourself to work away from home for months at a time, you want to make sure it’s with the right company that is going to treat you fairly and give you room to grow your skills. Use some common sense and don’t just take any offer.
BONUS TIP: Offer to do short stints with other mines during the season if you’re available
One way Parker mentioned to get additional experience and to check out different operations is to offer to work for a short, set amount of time. That takes the pressure off the owner of having to decide if they can keep you on or if you’d be a good long term fit. It allows you the chance to see how other operations work and gives you more experience and contacts in the mining business.
While it can be hard to get into the mining business, Parker has offered some great tips to make it easier for anyone new to get into the business. Start and build the skills that are in demand and needed, make sure you can handle the realities of camp life and start with the larger operations to get the skills, knowledge and contacts needed to work with a smaller operation if you want or even start your own one day.
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