Paul Cuthbert and BHP lead charge towards diversity

BHP Olympic Dam. Image: BHP

The 2019 Prospect Awards Mine Manager of the Year has overseen a range of BHP’s projects in his 13 years with the company, including developments at the Olympic Dam and Roxby Downs sites. Salomae Haselgrove writes.

Paul Cuthbert is today the general manager mine at Olympic Dam, one of the world’s most significant deposits of copper, gold, silver and uranium, located 560 kilometres north of Adelaide in South Australia.

Olympic Dam is made up of underground and surface operations, including a fully integrated facility for processing from ore to metal.

Cuthbert has been acknowledged for his many years of contribution to BHP and subsequently, the industry as a whole, by winning the CRC Industries Mine Manager of the Year award at the 2019 Australian Mining Prospect Awards.

As modest as he is successful, Cuthbert credits the win to the entire Olympic Dam team rather than himself as an individual.

“Winning the award is very humbling and the backdrop for this award must be attributed to the broader mining team Olympic Dam,” Cuthbert says.

He may attribute his win to the whole team, but he has certainly made a mark on BHP as a company.

Starting with the company in 2006, Cuthbert began his career in the Eastern Goldfields region of Western Australia before moving to Olympic Dam to work as an underground production manager.

After a quick stint at BHP’s Adelaide office, Cuthbert spent nearly 2 years as general manager at Ekati diamond mine, 300 kilometers south of the Arctic circle in Canada’s Northwest Territories and prior to coming to Olympic Dam about a year ago led the shaft sinking efforts at BHP’s Jansen Potash Project in Saskatechewan, Canada.

He then returned to Olympic Dam as BHP’s Underground Mining School of Excellence initiative was acknowledging its first stream of graduates.

The Underground Mining School of Excellence creates job opportunities for people without experience in mining through a tailored five-week program of theory and practical training.

Students learn the skills and language needed to work in the industry and it includes modules on BHP’s history, company purpose, working culture and mental health.

Cuthbert, pleased with the success of the program, says it has helped people from a wide range of backgrounds gain more confidence in the mining sector.

“I look at the mining school project and think about how they’ve done such a fantastic job of thinking outside of the box and how we can make a difference for people new to the industry and it’s been a great example of what can be done to cultivate the next generation of miners,” Cuthbert says.

“We’ve had just over 100 graduates come through and looking forward there’s about 40 coming out in the next three months.

“In terms of impact, the vast majority of those 140 people have been new to the industry and come from all walks of life, so it has given BHP access to a broader work pool.

“When I talk to the graduates there’s a sense of greater confidence after giving them a couple of months’ worth of training.”

Cuthbert also notes the program’s high retention rate and how much more comfortable graduates seem to be at the end of their training compared with other methods of bringing in new staff.

“We are seeing less turnover than we do in other ways of bringing people into the company, so it’s quite positive,” he says.

“You only have to talk to the team that has been providing the training to realise the difference it makes on the individuals.”

Cuthbert believes the program has been such a success due to BHP’s position as a leading organisation for social value, in particular, ensuring diversity in the workplace.

“One of the ways BHP as a company thinks about social value is how do we get a workplace diversity that represents the communities in which we operate,” Cuthbert explains.

“By being open to diversity, we can access a greater number of people from different walks of life that come through to work with us.

“It’s been great coming back to Olympic Dam and seeing the strides we have taken as a company, such as the number of women in our workforce and the mining school is a part of that.”

BHP’s ratio of women in the workplace has increased to more than 24 per cent, around double what it was five years ago, and the company is taking measures to continue to make this number grow.

“BHP has been quite open about seeking gender balance by 2025 and the mining school should continue to make this happen,” Cuthbert says.

He says one of the reasons BHP has been so successful in striving for diversity and fostering successful leaders is how stringent the company is on sticking to its values – sustainability, integrity, respect, performance, simplicity and accountability.

“Our charter values are not just something that just hands on the wall, our leaders use them as guidance not only from a prosperity perspective, but for doing what is right,” he says.

“This is the longest I’ve been with one employer and one of the things that keeps me here is our values and knowing I’m being supported in the decisions I make as a leader.”

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

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