Combatting skills shortages head on

Nick Watson, Glencore’s electrical apprentice, at the Hunter Valley Skills Centre.

Mining companies are solidifying a record year in 2018 by adding more talent into the field. Vanessa Zhou speaks with the leading miners, METS companies and universities in Australia.

Australia is coming off a record-breaking year in the resources industry.

In 2018, Australia’s gold production reached a record 317 tonnes, breaking the previous 21-year-old mark of 314.5 tonnes.

Coal also took the top spot as the highest-earning export commodity last year, increasing the previous export record by two million tonnes to 223 million tonnes.

This guided Australia to a record export value of $248 billion in 2018, 72 per cent of which were solely accounted for by the resources sector, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA).

Encouragingly, these successes are being met with an increasing uptake of apprentices across mining and mining services companies.

For BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA), its growing number of apprentices in recent years reflects the rising demand for mining skills across the Bowen Basin, Queensland.

BMA’s 2019 apprentice cohort taking a group shot at the Coalfields Training
Excellence Centre.

 

 

“The apprenticeship program is a critical part of our operations in Central Queensland, and provides a pipeline of enthusiastic and talented young people that enables us to address the skill needs across our business,” a BMA spokesperson says.

Echoing BHP’s diversification of its executive leadership – with the promotion of three women in February this year – women make up 40 per cent of the BMA apprentice intake in 2019. These female apprentices have been put through their paces in Moranbah so far this year to prepare them for their new careers.

BMA asset president James Palmer, aligned with BHP’s ambitious target to make half of its workforce female by 2025, points out that this year’s apprentice intake is a diverse cohort.

“We have a great mix in this intake of apprentices from school leavers through to experienced workers, Indigenous people, men and women,” Palmer says.

The apprentices became part of the teams at BMA’s Goonyella Riverside, Peak Downs, Saraji, Broadmeadow and Blackwater mines, as well as the Hay Point coal terminal, following the completion of the Coalfield Training Excellence Centre program.

Anglo American also continues to invest in new apprenticeship and trainee programs across its business.

In celebrating the 10th anniversary of its school-based apprenticeship program at Moranbah North, Anglo American has renewed its commitment to the programs.

In fact, Metallurgical Coal business chief executive Tyler Mitchelson has seen a ramp up in recruitment activities and the number of available apprenticeships and traineeships since 2017.

“We’re developing new entry level programs targeted at people without a traditional mining backgrounds such as our Indigenous Trainee Program and our landmark female Trainee Underground Miner Program at Moranbah North Mine, which received more than 1300 applications,” Mitchelson says.

“We want to make a real difference to local employment, and our apprenticeships and trainee programs are just one way we’re achieving that.”

Glencore, another major natural resource employer in Australia, is also inclusive of local talent from regional communities.

Glencore coal apprentice Nick Watson.

 

With operations stretching from Singleton in New South Wales to Mount Isa and Cloncurry in Queensland, to Borroloola in the Northern Territory, Glencore is growing its number of apprentices from regional communities – with 74 in Queensland alone and 112 people throughout Australia kick-starting their careers this year.

“More than earning and learning, we’re arming them with the knowledge to innovate, grow and lead in a wide range of fields,” Glencore Australia human resources lead Jodie Hope says. “Developing tomorrow’s talent is a crucial part of our business.”

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane, also recognises the significant increase in Glencore’s apprenticeship numbers.

“This cohort of young women and men are embarking on a long and rewarding career in the resources sector,” Macfarlane says.

“When resources are doing well, Queensland is doing well. Over 12 months, the resources sector has created a job every 40 minutes, which is helping drive down the state’s stubbornly high unemployment rate [of] above 6 per cent.”

Industry equipped with training

Some apprenticeship programs are also designed to meet the digitalisation of mine sites in Australia, which opens the path for young people to develop their technology skills.

For example, Northern Star Resources apprentice, Ben Ashby, received RCT’s mentorship in the area of remote interface repairs and diagnoses in February this year.

Concurrently, Gold Fields apprentice/auto electrician Michael Schoeppner is also trained in the repair and maintenance of remotelyoperated mining equipment. His new skills are expected to benefit Gold Fields’ projects in Western Australia, where remote technologies are used at an increasing rate to improve mine safety and productivity.

However, there can be challenges for younger apprentices associated with the transition from home and school into a full-time working role.

The longer hours of work and time away from family takes some adjustment, requiring the ongoing support of mentors and site leaders, according to Barminco safety and people general manager Patrick Bourke.

To help overcome the problem, Barminco supports its apprenticeship program with a dedicated coordinator and partners with senior maintenance leaders for the program.

The contractor maintains effective ratios of qualified tradespeople to apprentices to ensure the workplace training, support and mentoring model operates beneficially for each participant. It ensures each apprentice is connected with an advisor or mentor in the business to support them along their apprenticeship journey.

Third-year apprentice Ashlee Walling at Barminco’s Hazelmere Yard in Perth.

 

The company’s dedication has proven fruitful – its retention rate of apprentices who complete trade qualifications with Barminco is “excellent, with almost all having gone on to enjoy very successful longterm careers” with the company.

“We are heavily invested in and very proud of the program,” Bourke says.

“Participation in the Barminco apprenticeship program outlines a career pathway for each apprentice in their chosen trade, and provides longer term exposure to broader career pathways from entry-level through to supervisory or senior leadership roles.”

Pleasingly, the company continues to see high application rates (800 candidates for the 2019 intake) and high retention rates for its apprentices – both throughout the program and subsequent to completion of the program for its qualified tradespeople within Barminco.

This will surely contribute to the mining equipment, technology and services (METS) sector, which was responsible for $84 billion of Australia’s GDP in 2018, according to data from the University of Queensland (UQ) School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering professor Peter Knights.

Universities build next-gen students

As apprentice numbers grow across Australia, universities are addressing the challenge of attracting students to mining-focused courses despite being amongst the world’s leading institutions in this area.

UQ, ranked fifth in the 2019 QS World University Rankings for mineral and mining engineering, is playing an instrumental role in sustaining the growth of the mining and METS sectors in the long-term.

The institution works closely with member companies of the QRC to secure vacation work opportunities during the first year of engineering studies.

“By enabling students to observe and experience mining and metallurgical engineers on-site as they work, we’re able to show them what a career in this sector really looks like, and we’ve found this has had a positive impact on the number of students who elect to study mining engineering and pursue it as a career,” Knights says.

Curtin University, the world’s second-ranked university for mineral and mining engineering, on the other hand, has been working with its Western Australian School of Mines alumni, such as Saracen Mineral Holdings managing director Raleigh Finlayson, to promote the profile of the industry and lift enrolments.

Amid record-low enrolments in mining engineering, Curtin University has introduced several initiatives to improve the number of female students pursuing a career in the mining sector, vice-chancellor Deborah Terry says.

Curtin University has engaged an expert panel chaired by Rio Tinto’s former head of innovation, John McGagh, which has also produced some recommendations for the school’s curriculum.

The revised curriculum is expected to be progressively rolled out from 2020 to attract more students.

“I look forward to the Western Australian School of Mines: Minerals, Energy and Chemical Engineering continuing to expand its proud history of providing essential support to the mining and resources sectors,” Terry concludes.

This article appears in the April 2019 issue of Australian Mining.

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