On the job at Northern Star Resources

Toben Clements studied Bachelor of Engineering at Western Australian School of Mines in 2018 and is a graduate mining engineer at Northern Star Resources.
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What's your full name and job title?

Toben Clements – graduate mining engineer.

What did you study? When did you graduate?

Mining engineering; 2018.

Where did you grow up?

Completing primary school in Roxby Downs, South Australia (a relatively small mining town similar to Kalgoorlie) forged my path to working within mining as I was exposed to it at such a young age. Experiencing the huge BHP Billiton day every year opened my eyes to the flashy and fun side of mining.

How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?

I started working with Northern Star late 2015 for vacation work over the summer break from university. I continued working with them intermittently until graduating in 2018, in which they offered me a graduate engineering position. After accepting the graduate position, I immediately began training upon drill and blast.

How did you choose your specialisation? Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?

I can’t say I had looked too deeply into other alternatives, due to my prior exposure to mining. I guess if I couldn’t go into mining, paramedicine would be my next choice as I believe it to be a noble career path that is crucial within society. Luckily enough, as a part of the graduate program at Northern Star, you get exposure to mine site emergency response. I am a member of the team, which means I can train and develop my skills to aid others in case of an emergency.

What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?

The interviewing process I experienced for Northern Star was presented in two components: general networking conversations and then a formal interview. Northern Star is present at many student industry nights and during general conversations, I was asked a few of the following questions:

How are you going with your studies?

What extracurricular activities do you participate in?

Do you find a good balance between study and having fun?

Where do you see yourself in a few years? What do you want to be doing?

My answers must have been sufficient, as at the end of the networking I was asked if I would like to complete a formal interview to potentially join the vacation program with Northern Star. The interview was a formality that provided me with great information about Northern Star’s programs and we discussed my career aspirations further. It also presented an opportunity to ask any questions that I had regarding their program and the company.

What does your employer do?

Northern Star Resources is a global-scale Australian gold mining company that utilises underground mining methods. They employ workers of all disciplines within mining; eg mining engineering/science, metallurgical engineering/science, mine surveying, geology and geotechnical engineering.

What are your areas of responsibility?

I’m currently working as a drill and blast engineer at Kanowna Belle gold mine. The responsibilities afforded to me involve designing drill & charge plans, frequently liaising with underground operators and reconciling stopes after they have been mined.

Can you describe a typical workday? What was the last thing you worked on?

4.30 am – Wake-up and prepare for the day ahead.

5.20 am – Leave for work.

5.40 am – Arrive at work and catch up with night-shift drillers and charge-up operators to discuss their shift and what they have accomplished. I’ll then catch up with day-shift drillers and charge-up operators to ensure they are aware of what they will be doing today and provide them with the necessary plans if required.

6.00 am – Pre-shift safety meeting; this is to talk about the operator’s previous shift and to fill everyone in on the daily priorities and to detail any hazards within the mine that are yet to be rectified.

6.20 am – Input relevant data from the previous 24 hours into specified tracking sheets and collate a list of jobs that will need to be completed throughout the day.

7.20 am – Technical services safety meeting; this is to discuss every individual aspect of the mining operation within the last 24 hours, while also addressing the forecasted targets for the next 24 hours.

8.00 am – Throughout the day I continue working on current drill and charge plans. 

12.30 pm – At least every second day I will head underground to inspect the current and future drill sites, as personally discussing with the operators at the job site is the best way to gain feedback on whether the plan you have designed is feasible.

5.00 pm – Talk with mine foreman and shift-bosses to discuss what has happened on the day-shift and what is planned for night-shift.

5.40 pm – Catch up with day-shift drillers and charge-up operators to discuss their shift and what they have accomplished. I’ll then catch up with night-shift operators to ensure they are aware of what they will be doing and provide them with the necessary plans if required.

6.00 pm – Wrap up the day and head home.

What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here?

A mining engineering degree is really versatile within the mining industry; you can virtually be employed to do any task on-site, from truck driver to upper management. As a part of the mining engineering graduate program, you work underground for approximately half of the program to enable you to qualify to apply for the WA First Class Mine Manager’s Certificate, which can also lead to opportunities such as shift boss, mine or project manager. The limitation on what you can do is self-imposed; if you work long and hard enough, you can virtually step into any role, especially with the growth and development opportunities that Northern Star is providing.

What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?

As mentioned previously, I’d probably be working as a paramedic if I wasn’t in mining.

What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?

I’d have to say the charge plans are a blast.

What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you bear a lot of responsibility? Do you have to work on weekends? Are stress levels high?

For a recent graduate, I’d say that it is a lot of responsibility to be thrust upon you right away, but at the same time, they wouldn’t put you in a role by yourself if they didn’t believe you could handle the workload. I personally believe that having your handheld through all of your training can only take you so far; it is important to jump in the deep end and try to find a solution on your own.

The rosters for mining can vary, but the roster I work on is eight days on, six days off, for 12 hours a day. Sure, the workdays are long, but I wouldn’t have it any other way; the extended ‘weekends’ provide perfect opportunities to travel.

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?

  1. Finding a good balance between study and social activities is key. Uni is just as much about learning how to learn, as it is learning how to network. If you spend all of your time studying, you’ll miss the easiest opportunity to build friends and networks that will aid you in your career; however, if you spend all of your time socialising, then learning new things at university or on the job will not come as naturally.
  2. Never be afraid to ask for help. Pay attention while you are being trained and try to repeat the steps back to them verbally; if something doesn’t make sense ask them to clarify it.
  3. You’ve got two ears and one mouth for a reason. It’ll be cliché if you’ve heard it before, but it’s great advice. When you’re learning, take on as much information as you can and fully listen to all they are trying to say before speaking.
  4. Sneaky forth one: Present yourself with pride. Stand up straight with your shoulders back, make eye contact with the person you are talking to (or just look at the bridge between their eyes – they can’t tell the difference), provide a firm handshake and exercise your mind and body regularly.