On the Job with a Graduate Process Engineer at South32

GradAustralia met with Hannah Wiseman to learn about life on the job as a Graduate Process Engineer at South32
Erin Delaney
Team GradAustralia
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Hannah studied a Bachelor of Engineering at the University of Wollongong and graduated in 2015

How would you describe where you work in a nutshell?

South32 Illawarra Metallurgical Coal is a long-term and leading coking coal supplier for steelmaking, with small amounts of energy coal as a by-product. Located on the coast around 80km south of Sydney, the Illawarra operations feature three underground mines, two processing plants and a logistics chain.

What do you do day-to-day?

I am currently seconded to the Dendrobium coal preparation plant (washery) as an assistant team leader, and it’s my role to monitor the washery via a computer. I need to know how to shut down/start up the washery as well as know the optimal process parameters so I can monitor them for any abnormalities. If I notice anything abnormal in the trends or any alarms are generated I will send the trade/operators to investigate and, when necessary, I will also help out onsite to resolve any issues.

What’s the graduate program like?

The project I am working on forms a key part of the graduate program. The first-year graduates are paired with a second-year graduate and provided a list of projects across the business to choose from. We work together on the project and, on completion, the results/findings are presented to the Australian Regional Lead Team at our yearly get-together. This project has provided me with exposure to a wide variety of people across South32, both in Australia and South Africa, from senior managers and superintendents to operators and some of our contractors. I also spent a week at the South32 head office in Perth.

How did you become interested in the industry?

I grew up in a little town called Mandurang just outside of Bendigo in Victoria (around two hours northwest of Melbourne), finishing high school in 2009. While in year 12, a past student came to present his “post-high school experience” as a computer cadet at BlueScope Steel and it sounded extremely interesting — so I applied! I moved up to Wollongong in January of 2010 to begin my career at BlueScope as a Materials Engineering Cadet, where I spent the next six years completing a combination of full-time work/part-time uni and full-time uni.

While working at BlueScope, I was placed in both technical groups doing work from research and development to failure investigations, and in frontline operations running crews and systems. As part of the program there is a one year, full-time university component but there’s no requirement as to which university you have to go to. I wasn’t limited to the University of Wollongong or even a university in Australia, so I decided to apply for an exchange and ended up doing that year at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden.

Could someone with a background different to yours land the same job?

Yes, absolutely! As an assistant team leader there are no formal qualifications you need to have. As a graduate process engineer you need to have completed a bachelor of either materials or chemical engineering. South32 is a very inclusive company and employs an extremely diverse range of people!

What four key characteristics would a successful grad at South 32 likely possess?

  • The ability to take constructive criticism on board and learn from your mistakes
  • Wanting everyone in the workplace to succeed at what they do
  • Not being reckless
  • Being able to take initiative.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Working as an assistant team leader at the washery requires me to work 12-hour shifts and every second weekend. While not everyone is suited to shift work, I absolutely love it. The project work I am involved with requires you to be able to understand new processes quickly and able to see the bigger picture. A “half job” will not be accepted, so working more than the standard 38-hour week may be necessary at times. Both jobs require me to be able to develop and maintain good relationships with people so they are willing to work with and/or for you.

What gets you springing out of bed in the morning?

I love getting out on the plant and getting my hands dirty – there’s nothing better than seeing the physical results of your hard work. I love understanding and learning new processes; it’s extremely satisfying getting to the stage where the lightbulb clicks and it all comes together. Being able to understand a process well enough and dissect the reasons it may not be working efficiently, and suggest improvement opportunities that are valid, and having those implemented is an amazing feeling.

Three pieces of advice for keen students...

  • Ask and you may receive – if nobody knows what you want to do or what you’re interested in then they’ll never think to offer you jobs or new opportunities.
  • If you don’t like something in your life, change it!
  • Networking is extremely important, both professionally and socially.