Getting into mining

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Mining is the biggest export earner in Australia and supports well over 100,000 jobs, so it’s a great, progressive industry to be involved in. Access isn’t always guaranteed though, so we thought it would be handy to get some inside advice on getting into mining.

Robert Mencel has been in the industry for 22 years and is now the General Manager of Tallering Peak Operations for WA’s Mount Gibson Iron Ltd. Here he very kindly answers some frequently asked questions.
Q: Is the mining industry for everyone, or do some people seem better suited to it than others?

A: In general, the mining industry tends to suit people who enjoy working outdoors, are happy to work in remote locations and are prepared to work as part of a team.

Q: For high school kids interested in the industry, what subjects and potential tertiary fields would you recommend?

A: For high school kids, I would recommend Maths, Chemistry, Physics, Geology, Accounting and Biology. For tertiary students I would recommend courses in Science, Geology, Metallurgy and Engineering (Mechanical, Chemical, Mining, and Electrical).

Q: What are the major benefits to families who choose the mining lifestyle?

A: The mining industry offers a wide range of lifestyles depending on the role and location. A residential role allows you to live near the mine. In most cases this means living in a small mining community. This has advantages and disadvantages. These communities tend to be safe, affordable and easy places to live, normally with good sporting, recreational and community facilities. The main disadvantage of small communities tends to be the limited schooling options and health services available. Increasingly as more partners work and have careers, the limited employment options for partners is also seen as a negative.

Many mining roles are offered on a fly in, fly out (FIFO) basis. This gives the employee more options where to live, but does mean employees spending time away from their family. The advantage of FIFO for families is the minimal disruption. An employee can work in the mining industry without the need for other family members to change houses, schools and form new social circles. In many cases it also allows closer ties to be maintained with extended family members (grandparents, aunties and uncles etc).  The main disadvantage for families of FIFO is having the employee away from family for extended period of time. Depending on the family, this can create additional stress within a family.

Q: Is it really a feasible option for couples with young children?

A: In my opinion, the mining lifestyle is a feasible option for couples with young children. Living in mining communities with young children normally works well. Typically the needs of a young family, play groups, kindergartens and primary schools are well catered for.

FIFO can also work well for couples with young children. In many cases having the flexibility on where to live enables families to be closer to extended families. This can be a valuable source of extra support.  Most FIFO rosters also provide more time off than ordinary residential rosters. This extra time gives the employee the opportunity to spend extra time with the children. Being home during the week, instead of just on weekends, allows the employee to take part in other areas of a child’s life (e.g. taking the kids to playgroup, school or sport).

Q: What trades are predominantly utilised in mining?

A: Boiler Maker, Diesel Mechanic, Auto Electrician, Electrician, Fitter

Q: If a qualified tradesman (or woman) wanted to get into the industry, what’s his or her best route?

A: Applying for any job at the moment is very competitive. Like any prospective employee, having a recognised qualification, respectable work history and excellent references is a good start. Working in an industry similar to the mining industry (Heavy Engineering, Agriculture, Defence, Transport and Forestry) can often provide experience that is seen as relevant to the mining companies. Finally, if you aren’t successful in getting a job initially with a mining company or mining contractor, try getting a job with a company that services the mining industry. The experience gained working for these companies will help you when next applying for mining roles.

Q: Do some short courses (first aid or truck licence) improve an applicant’s chances? If so, which ones?

A: When applying for jobs, it’s important to try and make your application standout above the rest. One way of doing this is to gain additional qualifications. A Senior or Occupational First Aid Certificate and Heavy Vehicle Licence are a good start. Additional training in operating ‘mobile plant’, ‘confined entry’ or ‘working at heights’ will all make you more “work ready” and increase your chance of success.

Q: When you’re considering and/or interviewing applicants without a mining background, what exactly are you looking for? (i.e. do they need show flexibility with rosters and travel or be a good team member etc?)

A: A steady work history is a good start. Part-time or vacation work while a student, and long-term employment in other roles gives an employer some confidence that the applicant is motivated to work and is capable of maintaining a job.

Previous relevant experience helps. Experience gained working in industries that involve heavy engineering or involves mobile plant (Defence, Agriculture, Transport and Forestry) has some relevance to the mining industry. This obviously improves an applicant’s chance of success.  

Q: How do you cope with fly in fly out and what words of advice do you have for others contemplating the lifestyle?

A: FIFO can be stressful for a family. My advice would be not to attempt FIFO unless everything is happy and settled on the home front. Like any additional stress on a family or relationship, FIFO can magnify existing problems in the home, or in some cases hide them, only for them to re-appear at a later date.

If you’re confident everything is right on the home front, by all means give it a go! If it works for you, there can be some great benefits. A couple helpful hints on FIFO:

  • Communication. When away from your family, make the effort to speak to them daily and maintain an interest in their lives.
  • Have a small celebration to acknowledge the fact that you’re home. For example, have a special meal at home, go out for lunch or dinner with your partner or family, or buy some of your family’s favourite food as a treat!
  • On the first day of R&R, try to keep it relatively low key! Most people are usually tired after their stint at work and take a day or two to recover. It’s unlikely you will be the “life of the party” on your first day home.  
  • As tempting as it maybe, try not to spend all your R&R socialising or partying. Eventually the old saying of burning the candle at both ends rings true.

Q: Any last tips on how to get into the industry? Have we forgotten any major issues that should be addressed by anyone hoping to get into mining?

A: Perseverance!

Q: On a personal note, tell us about your own career path …

A: After high school I studied Mining Engineering and worked at various mines during the holidays. After graduation I worked as an underground labourer for a mining contracting company, before accepting a job as graduate mining engineer. After gaining my Quarry Manager Certificate I moved through the roles of senior mining engineer, mining manager and operations manager. After completing further study to gain an MBA, I worked in a number of roles as business manager, project director and general manager for both mining and engineering companies.