Setting the record straight….developing a plan to land your new mining job.
So you have been contemplating a new adventure, career wise. Perhaps entertaining the idea of gaining employment within the mining industry. You have heard the news reports that the industry is on the upswing at the moment… even perhaps dare we say it… the “B”word.
Yes! We said it. The hardrock underground industry is booming!
But then you ask yourself, where do I begin? You spend hours scouring the internet for possible jobs that will provide you a way forward into the industry. You find online threads providing advice and information on the best way into the industry and in most cases, the advice is well meaning in nature, but made by those with no real industry experience or knowledge. As a group of WA Underground Shift Supervisors, we wanted to take the opportunity to provide a level of accuracy and set the record straight on a few industry misnomers in order to help new starters get their start.
Firstly, before undertaking any big life changing decision, and changing careers is one of these you need a plan.
1. Research the industry.
Ask yourself, what do I actually know about the mining industry? Do I have an understanding of the different mining methods involved? Do I prefer to work in hardrock, coal, iron ore or oil & gas? And, specifically, do I want to work underground or on the surface?
Why do we make you ask these questions? Simply put, they all have different requirements for entry and they don’t require you going out and spending money on equipment tickets that will not be recognised on any mine site in Australia.
What does this mean? It means that mining in Australia operates under its own state by state jurisdiction as laid down by relevant mining acts. Think of the minesite as its own little country with its own rules. You will be provided training on all equipment when on site and then signed off on that equipment accordingly. That is your “ticket” which is only applicable for that minesite and is not transferable to any other site.
2. Have I identified the booming areas of mining?
Presently, there is a massive boom in the hardrock mining industry. With the worlds thirst for sustainable energy sources, there has been a huge surge in need for metals such as lithium, nickel, copper and gold, for battery production. Mining companies and contractors to the hardrock industry are currently advertising to fill new crews to keep up with demand. Most experienced hardrock miners have since retired since 2012 so opportunities for new starters have never been better.
On the flip side, coal and iron ore are not necessarily experiencing a downturn from an economic perspective, but from employment opportunities. When the industry experienced the downturn in 2012 onwards mining companies decreased their crew numbers and experienced miners were turfed out of the industry. These experienced workers are now the ones getting back into the industry again. This means that new starter entry level opportunities within coal and iron ore are few and far between.
3. So I’ve decided on the area of mining that I want to work in, what qualifications do I need to get my start?
Each area of mining is different, but one thing they have in common is that you don’t need externally purchased equipment tickets to operate the equipment on minesites. As previously stated, you will be signed out on the equipment onsite and the ticket is non-transferable, even to another site owned by the same company. They will RPL on the new site. The companies need to be able to prove they have trained all their employees to the same standard and be able to prove this to the mines department at all cost. The only way to police this is to keep the ticketing as an onsite procedure.
Haul Truck Tickets
Truck Driving on any minesite is considered an entry level position. One misconception is that if I undertake a 3-day haul truck course, I will have the necessary tickets to land that elusive mining job. Providers hawk these tickets as a way into a mining job. All you will get out of these courses is literally 3 days of sitting in a truck and a piece of paper at the end of it which is not recognised within the mining industry and no employer can use due to the onsite ticketing system. It will be recognised as a construction ticket and that is all, because construction tickets are accredited under a national system, whereby as previously outlined mining has no such accreditation and is solely site based.
This is one of the reasons why we ask you to identify what area of mining you wish to chase down. Basically to operate a dump truck on the surface, you only need an unencumbered HR license. And in saying this, if you identify that hardrock underground is the way you want to go, then you only need a manual drivers license to operate the articulated trucks underground. Why only a manual drivers license and not a HR to drive trucks? The answer has nothing to do with the trucks. The answer is that you are required to be able to operate a LV (ute) underground which are all manuals. It is as simple as that.
All employees on any minesite will undertake the site specific induction. Through our everyday discussions with clients enquiring about what Underground Training can offer them to assist them in getting their start, We have found one resounding theme.
“I have my S11 General Induction, why aren’t I getting a look in?”
Flatly, we ask them, when you enrolled in the S11 what was your expectation of its use. The answer is usually, "I thought it was a minimum to work in the industry whether it be coal or hardrock." Now whether they have come to that impression on their own because of the inaccurate information they have gleaned from the internet that we spoke of before, or they have been sold this impression through nefarious channels, all a plausible possibility.
Anyway, bottom line, the S11 General Induction is only utilised in the coal industry in QLD (NSW do have their own version and is of course only applicable in NSW and neither are transferable between states). It should be noted also that you are able to complete the theoretical components (first 2 days) of the S11 General Induction but in order to be signed off on the full induction, you need to be working on a minesite. So in essence how does this help any new starter to the industry.
Confined Space and Working At Heights Tickets
Another misnomer about underground mining, in particular hardrock underground is that the mines are a confined environment so there is a need for a confined space ticket. This is simply untrue. If you have stood in the underground train stations in any major city then you have been in the equivalent of an Australian hardrock underground mine with regards to dimensions of the declines. The only instance you would ever require a confined space ticket on a minesite is if you were undertaking shutdown work and were cleaning out tanks in the mill.
A Working At Heights ticket is one ticket that we are on the fence about with obtaining it prior to landing a mining job. Basically, when undertaking site inductions, they will require you to complete THEIR course anyway. This is another example of why the onsite ticketing system is implemented to ensure transparency for the mines department.
4. What are my overall career aspirations?
Many people of all ages and walks of life decide to go mining for a number of reasons. Some just go to see what it is like, some go for the money (and that is certainly not a bad thing), some are nearing retirement and just want a substantial top-up to their super and some people view mining as a definite career opportunity for themselves. It is for this reason why we ask you to carefully reflect on what area of the mining industry you would like to enter.
Don’t get me wrong, the whole industry has its pros and cons in all aspects but there is one area of the industry that in our opinion and experience offers the most for those looking to make mining a long term career. That area is hardrock underground. It is one area where if you were to start at the bottom, within ten years, with some drive and commitment behind you, you could have an international mining career earning $30,000 per month. Where as if you get into a coal mine in QLD or NSW, the best you can hope for is in 10 years time the mine you are working on is still going and you have a job.
So if I don’t need all the tickets I thought I did, how can Underground Training help me get my first role?
Underground Training has developed a series of industry standard courses in line with the WA Mining Act that provide new starters with the mining knowledge in order to enable them to confidently answer the mining questions in an interview. When an employer identifies a potential new starter with mining knowledge, it becomes a game changer for them and they have the confidence to hire. It’s as simple as that. As Underground Shift Bosses we identified an issue of new starter attrition rates and undertook the development of these courses as a solution. We identified that a new starter that came to site with no practical experience but had a theoretical knowledge of the roles that they were expected to undertake had a substantially increased rate of success within 3 months of starting and were a safer employee in the long run.