Fitzroy Australia avoids a culture clash at Ironbark No. 1

Infrastructure at Carborough Downs.

Overcoming skills shortages demands a unique approach in Australian mining at the moment.

Not only are shortages increasing throughout the country, but they also threaten to derail the ambitions of mining companies focused on expansion in a growing marketplace.

They even pose a risk to companies that want to create a certain culture that drives a consistent level of performance across multiple operations.

Coal miner Fitzroy Australia Resources has set out to lower the impact of these concerns at its Bowen Basin operations in Queensland by introducing an innovative approach to recruitment and training.

The company, which acquired a group of metallurgical coal assets from Brazilian miner Vale in 2016, has established a presence over the past three years at the Carborough Downs mine, employing 340 employees and contractors.

It plans to build off this start at its next coal project, Ironbark No.1, where it will require 350 workers for an underground mine expected to produce six million tonnes of coking coal a year.

The company has launched a unique recruitment and training program to fill half of the jobs it is creating at Ironbark No. 1 with workers who are new to the mining industry.

Fitzroy Australia chief executive officer Grant Polwarth says the company factored in the skills shortages facing mining and how it can overcome the challenge.

“Skills shortages in the underground coal mining industry are very real – from statutory officials, to trades, to operators,” Polwarth tells Australian Mining.

“We must innovate and bring new people into the industry who share our values. This is the only way we will attract a uniquely talented team to help us build our business.”

Fitzroy has formed a partnership with SES Labour Services to provide the training, development and recruitment solutions at Ironbark No. 1, the first asset from the Vale package it will develop into a mine.

Ironbark No. 1, scheduled to reach production in first quarter 2020, will be an underground longwall, and bord and pillar site operated by Fitzroy. The project is designed to share major infrastructure with Carborough Downs.

SES will deliver the cultural assessment, training requirements and recruitment activities needed for all 350 positions Fitzroy expects it will need.

During this process, Fitzroy will collaborate with SES to establish a culture that is consistent across Ironbark No. 1, as well as its other operations.

SES executive general manager Nathan Sharpe says the recruitment and training company has worked closely with Fitzroy to understand the mining company’s values and culture since forming the partnership.

“We are putting a series of assessment tools together – if the candidates score well in the areas that are aligned to the Fitzroy way then they will be the type of candidates that Fitzroy wants to bring into Ironbark No 1, both green skins and experienced operators,” Sharpe, a former Australian Wallabies rugby union player, tells Australian Mining.

“It is going to be a long process; the initial screening process is going to take a couple of months to get the right people lined up.

“Fitzroy is taking a truly unique approach. They are very proud of what their culture is (at Carborough Downs) and they want to extend that into another mine site.”

Fitzroy Australia workers at Carborough Downs.


Fitzroy and SES will officially start recruitment for the underground roles in in the fourth quarter of 2019, but candidates have already been showing interest in the opportunity.

Polwarth says the partnership with SES is an important part of how Fitzroy will de-risk the development.

“This partnership will leverage off SES Labour Services’ specialist skills and experience in recruitment and training, but most importantly will look outside of our industry to focus on culture and leadership training – which is often overlooked with a singular focus on hard skills,” Polwarth says.

“We want pulling on a Fitzroy shirt to mean you are part of a team, part of something special.”

Sharpe, who played 116 matches for the Wallabies over a decade, draws parallels with his experience as a professional sportsman to what Fitzroy Australia wants to achieve at Ironbark No.1.

“I just think it’s the importance of how teams interact; I have been in some good teams and some ordinary teams,” Sharpe says.

“That translates into mining, in the business and all other facets of team work as well. Getting the right people on the bus to start with is always a key.

“Fitzroy Australia are clearly passionate, they are such a highly driven and motivated company – it’s really quite easy to see this as a direction to take.”

Fitzroy’s plan to hire a workforce that is half made up of people new to mining represents one of the top risks it faces at Ironbark No. 1.

Polwarth says there will be a focus on mentoring, incorporating the experienced workers that Fitzroy and SES identify as suitable candidates.

The experienced miners will be required to work closely with the new workers to help them become comfortable in an underground environment.

“We are currently investing in virtual reality platforms for principle hazard awareness training to synthesise the work environment and take training outcomes and preparedness to the next level,” Polwarth adds.

“We will be working to further our culture where we embrace accountability and celebrate our successes. We are proud and hungry to cut coal, and believe strongly in a mature safety culture where we are all one team.”

Skills shortages in the underground coal mining industry are very real – from statutory officials, to trades, to operators.

Fitzroy has also taken a partnership approach in other parts of Ironbark No. 1’s development, including with Nepean Mining, which will design and deliver key equipment and infrastructure.

Nepean’s scope at Ironbark No. 1 covers conveyors, electrical systems, electrical reticulation, the mine ventilation system and the longwall system.

Beyond Carboroough Downs, Ironbark No. 1 and its Broadlea project, Fitzroy has more than 98,000 hectares of tenements in the Bowen Basin.

The company has a pipeline of organic growth opportunities including the 12-mile Moranbah Measures Underground, 12-mile Rengal Measure Open Cut and Broadlea Central.

Each of these prospects will have unique characteristics, but if there is one thing that Fitzroy hopes to control, it will be establishing a consistent culture across all operations that feeds off the strategy taken at Ironbark No. 1.

“To build a world-class mine, we have entered into strategic partnerships with companies where there is great alignment in values and culture that will be company-building for both parties and deliver results. We believe that on-time, on-budget and world-class need not be mutually exclusive,” Polwarth concludes.

This article also appears in the March edition of Australian Mining. 

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