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Polar night shifts: How to compensate the Arctic's tough work conditions

MOSCOW, December 19. /TASS/. The Extreme North’s conditions - the polar night and severe climate - make it absolutely necessary in attracting human resources to the Arctic regions to consider the candidates’ not only professional skills, but also psychological stability, experts told TASS. The companies, working in the north, equip premises with special lamps and grow plants in every room, thus keeping the personnel and caring for its working abilities. Those, working in the north, equip for themselves fitness and sports recreations.

Experts, meanwhile, in attracting and keeping professionals point to priority of developing the social sphere; and in distanced and small settlements companies use social networks to employ the staff. What skills are of demand in the Arctic and how employers compensate the personnel for the severe working conditions - this is what TASS is writing about in this article.

Northern problems

The Extreme North’s conditions are very complicated and thus require a special approach to both the working process and to living there in general, experts told TASS. Otherwise, people would flee the area even despite the high incomes.

"It is very complicated to live through the polar night, when you have lights on at work all the time, and then coming home - again, the light is on, and this continues for a few months. It is depressing to have a short summer. Not all can survive these conditions, and many go away," the State Duma’s deputy Raisa Karmazina said. She came to Norilsk back in the Soviet times and lived there for many years.

Legislator Grigory Ledkov, who also leads the Association of Low-Numbered Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East, confirmed to TASS the existing problem of specialists fleeing the Arctic - the young people "from the North" after graduation from universities try to remain at regional centers and would not return home.

Working in the North is mostly on the rotation basis. According to the HeadHunter portal, 83% of those ready to work shifts are men of 18 to 40 years of age. But even for young, strong men the North’s conditions are extreme. The state inspector of the Russian Arctic National Park Alexei Molokovsky, who has been working on the Alexandra Land Island of Franz-Josef Land - Eurasia’s northernmost archipelago - says living in the North affects greatly both the physical and the psychological conditions.

"It is not easy to be away from the family, and in case my assistance is required there I cannot be of much help. It is complicated for the health, as the nature takes very strongly the health resources. It is also complicated, regarding psychological climate in a team - ideally, everyone should realize the common objective and meet the tasks. In fact, I did not have any training or preparation, I was aware of where I am going and what I shall face. I was prepared for certain problems," he told TASS.

Scientific approach

Director of the Medical-Biological Research Institute at the Lomonosov Northern (Arctic) Federal University in Arkhangelsk Mikhal Pankov says choice of specialists for work in the Arctic should be more thorough.

"We should consider special social conditions - a person will be not in a regular society, but in a closed team of shift workers or on a vessel, and thus it is most important to have preliminary tests to reveal negative aspects, <…>, to prepare people. Secondly, we should consider physiology reserves: how much a person can be working in those conditions - here the biological and the social aspects are closely connected. These aspects should be considered in training of oil producers, gas producers and sailors. As of now, they are trained professionally, but the Arctic component in the Extreme North’s conditions still lacks special attention," the scientist said.

Back in the Soviet times, he continued, scientists studied that sphere, they went to visit the rotational villages to see in reality how people live there; the research was targeted at prevention. Certain contraindications for work in the Arctic do exist, he said, but generally speaking going there depends on the employee and the skills he or she has.

Companies, working in the Arctic, test their personnel. Vorkutaugol (coal producer in the Komi Region) told TASS they do not organize special research of how people live in the severe climate or in the polar night, but candidates are to pass obligatory psychological tests. "Every candidate is to take a test, revealing tendencies for risk-taking and hazardous behavior, as well as abilities for focusing and quick reaction - the qualities, which are most important at hazardous industries, including mining," the company said.

With the purpose of cutting the factor of "severe living conditions, companies equip for miners saunas and recreational facilities. Every mine has rooms with UV lamps, where miners could compensate light shortage, and plants seem to grow in every office and room.

People, working in the Arctic, also organize their life in those conditions. According to Alexei Molokovsky, at the year-round base on the Alexandra Land, the staff have organized a fitness facility, have the Internet access and television broadcast.

Developing the social sphere

While it is not really a problem to find people, ready to work in the North on the rotation basis, finding those prepared to live and work there permanently is a big deal. Norilsk’s authorities say in 2012 they launched a program to attract specialists in the professions, where the region experiences certain shortage, - teachers and doctors. Under that program, the invited specialists are paid money for moving the families, the authorities offer housing and a one-off allowance of 100,000 rubles ($1,700), and a kindergarten for children.

Meanwhile, experts tell TASS attracting human resources cannot be solved by only high wages -local authorities should focus on development of social infrastructures. A member of the State Council on the Arctic’s development, Nornickel’s Vice President Elena Bezdenezhnykh says the authorities should organize comfortable favorable environment. "Any person, living in the Arctic, wants to have a cinema, to go out, to use good transport," she said.

Legislator Grigory Ledkov agrees, adding - instead of building new infrastructures, the authorities should rather develop the existing ones. "They should solve the problem of outdated housing, of lacking kindergartens. Do not build new villages for the rotation workers - rather develop the existing ones," he said.

Facebook as a recruitment agency

Quite often, in the north, people are using weird methods to find specialists. A school in Taimyr’s Volochanka, where a few hundred live, was always short of teachers. Most often, teachers would work for an academic year to leave for the mainland immediately after it is over. A similar situation happened in spring, when children remained there without teachers of Mathematics and English.

No replacement seemed available. Social networks turned out to be very handy, as the school’s Director Denis Terebikhin and the pupils posted appeals there.

"Teachers of English and Mathematics, we are waiting for you. We are good children, we, like you, also live in Russia and want to get good education. Come here! The school’s director says the wages are good," this and similar posts with children’s pictures on Facebook received hundreds responses.

The director says, dozens CVs flew to his e-mail box from across Russia, a few applications arrived even from Europe and Israel. Thus, the school in Volochanka welcomed new teachers: of Mathematics and of English - Ivan and Valentina Kazynchakovs from Khakassia, a teacher of Russian Elizaveta Barkharova and a teacher of Physics from Togliatti Artem Ruban.