Where did you grow up? Can you talk us through some important stages of your life in regards to your education, experience abroad and employment?
I am originally from Malaysia. I moved to Perth in 2006 at the age of 11.
During the penultimate year of my degree, I completed vacation work in an underground gold mine in the Northern Territory. My time there was a good introduction into what it would be like working in a remote location, the FIFO lifestyle and the workings of an underground mine.
When I finished my degree mid-2015, the condition of the market meant that there were limited graduate programs around and employment for mining graduates was low. In 2016 I managed to get my foot in the door by joining a graduate program based in an open-pit iron ore mine in the Pilbara. At this time, I mainly operated a surface truck, CAT793F, which can hold up to approximately 220 tonnes!
I remember being blown away by how big the truck was, especially standing up close to it. Just the wheels were about twice my height; it almost felt like I was operating a house on wheels.
How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?
As I was eager for new challenges, I decided to apply online for the South32 graduate program. Currently, I am almost at the end of my two-year graduate program.
How did you choose your specialisation? Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?
During my first year at university, with the way the year was structured, I was exposed to most of the engineering specialisations. This exposure allowed me to have a better idea as to what really interested me and what I felt I could pursue as a career. Mining especially sparked my interest as I felt it was so different to the other engineering fields. The idea that I would also be able to have a career that allowed me to have both time in the field and in the office was also really appealing.
What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?
I had an initial phone interview before going to Boddington for a site tour as well as a face-to-face interview with senior managers and HR. I was asked the standard interview questions, with a focus on my time at university, my previous mining experience and how that will impact my performance as a South32 graduate, as well as my mining career aspirations.
What does your employer do?
South32 is a globally diversified mining and metals company. We produce bauxite, alumina, aluminium, energy and metallurgical coal, manganese, nickel, silver, lead and zinc at our operations in Australia, Southern Africa and South America. We are also the owner of a high grade zinc, lead and silver development option in North America and have several partnerships with junior explorers with a focus on base metals.
I work in Queensland at our Cannington operation: an underground mine producing silver, lead and zinc.
What are your areas of responsibility?
Being a mining graduate, I spent the first year of the program working directly with the underground crew, rotating between the different roles required to obtain a First Class Mine Manager’s Ticket.
In the second year, I was rotated within the different design roles (drill & blast, paste and ventilation) in the Operational Engineering team. My responsibilities would change depending on which role I was assisting with for the swing.
Can you describe a typical work day? What was the last thing you worked on?
As per the previous question, my role can vary depending on where I am needed for that week. This means that there isn’t really a typical work day for me. I could be working on anything from a stope or miscellaneous hole design, to completing charge plans, a paste/rockfill note or just helping with running the day-to-day tasks.
The last thing I worked on was using Surpac to do development designs for an upcoming stope. I am currently spending the week with the Mine Planning team, just to see what they do and how it ties in what I do in the Operational Engineering team.
What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here?
As part of my graduate program, I have completed about 12 months of underground time. This sets me up to obtain a First Class Mine Manager’s Ticket in the future and possibly pursue becoming a mine manager.
I could also gain more experience within the Operational Engineering team and become a senior in the team.
Another possible career path would be to gain experience in other departments, such as Mine Planning, Geotechnical, Projects, Maintenance etc. The important thing to remember as well is that [your career prospects] don’t have to be confined to something related specifically to engineering, there are also opportunities to work in areas like Marketing or Supply.
There are a lot of places that this career can take you; it really depends on how open you are to taking on different roles.
What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?
What I like the most about what I’m doing now is the fact that there is a lot of a variety in what I do. Being a graduate, I have a lot of flexibility to move around and work in different departments, even for a short time just to get the exposure. This allows me to gain a more robust understanding of the operation and work with people from different areas of the mine.
With South32, as part of my development, I have also been able to attend mining conferences and visit different operations in the business. In January, I will be doing a site visit to our GEMCO operation in the Northern Territory.
What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you bear a lot of responsibility? Do you have to work on weekends? Are the stress levels high?
The combination of working away from home, the long hours and the idea of missing holidays can seem pretty daunting at first. Being in the Ops Team and having to respond quickly to the dynamic environment underground can also be stressful, especially when you first start a role.
However, being part of a good team that works well together as well as having lots of support from management makes it a lot easier to handle and the role can be very fulfilling. There are also facilities like the gym, pool and tavern in camp where you can unwind after work. Having a good mental-health management strategy in place is also a key part of working fly-in fly-out. I personally like to unwind after work with either a good book or watching a couple episodes of a TV series.
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?