Through the eyes of a graduate

In general, the public (graduates included) know little about the quarrying industry. Quarries are deliberately hidden away from public vantage points; many locals don’t even know about their existence much less understand them. Given its low profile, it is difficult to be able to appreciate what is involved in the industry.

Quarrying is often thought of as a hole in the ground and has negative connotations in terms of the environment. Quarries are often regarded as an eyesore and the need for quarries is seldom considered. These perceptions result in graduates being unaware of quarrying as a career and they do not consider a job in quarrying for employment upon leaving university.

After working in the quarrying industry, graduates are aware of the necessity of the industry, they are aware of the part quarrying plays in their day-to-day lives and gain an appreciation for the downstream industries that rely on quarrying. These include, but are not limited to, concrete manufacturing, chip for roofing tiles, and road construction, including basecourse, chip seal and asphalt.

Upon experiencing the quarrying industry, graduates are surprised at the level of complexity involved in comparison to their original perceptions. Graduates become aware of the environmental considerations such as mitigating any negative effects on the environment and the thought and planning that goes into the rehabilitation of a quarry site once extraction is complete.

Graduates quickly learn about consenting issues and become more aware of how quarrying is perceived by some members of the public, usually through a lack of understanding.

Graduates are generally happy in their jobs and enjoy working in the quarrying industry. They enjoy the freedom to be able to obtain a suitable mix between an office job and getting out and about. There is a lot of interaction with other people, which gives the job an appealing social aspect.

What quarrying offers
Job variety. Everyday there are a wide range of tasks that are carried out in a quarry. Graduates enjoy the varied nature of the work and the different challenges arising on a daily basis. This means that, to some extent, there are roles that can be tailored to suit a graduate’s preference.

Repair and maintenance of mobile and fixed plant forms a large part of any quarrying operation and roles in this area suit graduates who enjoy the hands-on engineering side of the business.

Having enough staff to operate mobile plant to keep the plant operating and to load trucks is essential. It is often beneficial to have someone in the office who can relieve operators. This is one of the functions often taken up by graduates who enjoy getting hands on and want to gain experience with mobile plant.

The mix of working in the office and working outdoors is one of the big positives mentioned by graduates.

Universal skills and employment. Due to the low unit value of aggregate and its relatively high transportation costs, there are quarries located close to most major cities in the world. The industry is widespread with opportunities for employment worldwide. Quarrying is known for its strong health and safety practices, with a culture based on resource management and environmental performance. There is also an emphasis on the people and financial management side of the business. The industry offers exposure to these facets of business, providing the opportunity to build competencies that are transferable to other businesses. This makes quarrying an international career choice.

Views from different perspectives. By working in the quarrying industry, you get to experience a wide range of perspectives. You get to see the necessity of aggregates in day-to-day life and hear from the surrounding residents who are affected by quarrying while working to minimise this.

Through the interaction with customers you learn how different aggregate properties affect their business. When talking to engineering consultants, you learn about their concerns. By working in the operations side of quarrying, you appreciate the difficulties in trying to meet some of the consultants’ and/or customers’ requests. The mixture of these points of view builds a well-rounded knowledge of aggregates and their properties as well as a comprehensive understanding of their uses by customers in downstream applications.

Developing communication skills. Communication skills are important to any job in all industries. In quarrying, there is the opportunity to work with people from a wide range of backgrounds. In a quarrying operation, graduates will typically be involved with production staff, lab staff, managers of varying levels, consultants, councils, national bodies, students and academics. These people will have varying levels of experience and qualifications, from people new to the industry to university degrees to doctorates.

Interacting with such a wide range of people is great for developing communication skills which can be transferred to any industry.

Location. Cartage forms a significant component of the cost of aggregate to a job site. As a result, quarries are generally located close to urban centres. This is a favourable comparison to the mining industry. Employees can live in city or town centres and still work in the quarrying industry.

Although the quarry may be out of town, travel is in the opposite direction of the main traffic flow.

Take Winstone Aggregate’s Belmont Quarry. It is located in the Hutt Valley. Every morning, traffic is heavily congested between the Hutt Valley and Wellington, with commuters entering the city for work. The route to the quarry is against the traffic and the roads are usually clear.

It is the same in Auckland, with the largest quarries located south of the city centre, while a major part of the population live in the south and head north for work.

What graduates can offer
Early involvement in quarrying. By recruiting graduates straight from university rather than trying to find suitable staff later, there is the opportunity to give graduates a good grounding in quarrying. Graduates can be rotated through roles, providing exposure to different areas of the business to achieve a well-rounded base. In their first couple of years, graduates are eager to learn and soak up information quickly.

At Winstone Aggregates, there is a deliberate plan to move graduates between jobs at regular intervals. This gives the graduate exposure to different roles and different quarry operations.

Long-term sustainability. By striking the right balance between graduates and experienced employees, graduates can be part of the long-term sustainability of a quarry. Placing graduates alongside experienced workers will result in a transfer of knowledge that is then retained once experienced employees leave the industry. This experience is then retained for the rest of the graduate’s career.

Analytical approach to problems. Graduates from a technical background have valuable analytical skills.

Some of the jobs that Winstone Aggregates regularly uses graduates for are:
? justification of capital expenditure
? monitoring quality and quality trends
? health and safety audits
? environmental monitoring and audits
? investigating allowable operating conditions, and
? downtime analysis.

Support. Using the analytical skills mentioned above, graduates can be used in a support role. Often sites are not large enough to require the full-time use of a graduate but have intermittent tasks or projects that are suitable for a graduate to work on. For this reason, Winstone Aggregates uses graduates in support roles that are either centralised or shared between sites.

For example, support graduates may work on projects such as plant upgrades, downtime analysis or power use.

Computer skills. Graduates have been raised in an environment where computers are a part of daily life and they are used heavily throughout university. Because of this, most graduates have very competent computer skills. Some employees have not had the same exposure to computers so are not as skilled in their use. A graduate’s computer skills can complement the practical experience of a supervisor or manager in terms of the reporting aspects of quarry management.

Graduates can also use their computer skills to upskill the quarry workforce in the use of computers.

An example of this is when Winstone Aggregates moved to a computerised work request system, which was rolled out nationwide. A graduate was used to train one of the maintenance engineers in the use of the new system. This was the first time the engineer had used a computer! With his new skills, he quickly picked up how to use email and was able to access other aspects of the new system, making him more efficient.

Attracting graduates to quarrying
Recruitment plan. Companies planning to recruit graduates need a strong recruitment plan. The plan should detail how many vacancies are available, what the positions are and what roles they will lead to in the future. Part of this is determining what is involved and the nature of the tasks in the vacancy. These are all things that the graduates will want to know before taking up any job offer.

This plan will also help with determining which positions a graduate will be rotated through.

Nature of work. One drawcard is the nature of the work, especially the balance between a desk job and being able to work outdoors. This should be conveyed to graduates and is a strong selling point.

Another positive factor is that there is a lot of interpersonal contact. Graduates have to work with quarry staff, managers, contractors and lab staff on a daily basis.

Big machines. The size of quarrying machinery is impressive. A picture of a man standing next to a dump truck is a great way to grab someone’s attention.
Retaining graduates
Development plan. It is important to have a strong plan in place for the development of a graduate. They need to know what is expected from them now and in the future. The reason that they went to university in the first place is that they are career minded.

Placing graduates in a support-type role provides valuable experience for graduates through good exposure to different aspects of the business while in a relatively low risk role. To retain graduates they must be moved on from this when the time is right. This should be incorporated in the development plan.

Graduate feedback. It is important to get feedback from graduates about what they think of their current role, including what aspects of their job they enjoy and what they would like to do next. This helps the company to understand what a graduate expects from their job and what career path they might want to take. There is no point in guiding an employee’s career in a certain path if that is not where they want to head. Regular opportunities for feedback should be built into the plan.

Once graduates have been working in the quarrying industry they develop an understanding of the importance of quarrying in daily life and the industries that rely on quarrying. There are many benefits for a graduate working in the quarrying industry, including job variety and the development of universally transferable skills.

By getting graduates involved in the quarrying industry early, it allows graduates to be rotated through jobs to develop a well-rounded quarrying experience. A transfer of knowledge can be achieved when graduates are paired up with experienced quarry employees. This information is retained by the graduate and can then be used by the graduate for the rest of their career, rather than being lost out of the industry. There are other strong benefits in employing graduates, such as computer competence and technical skills, providing an analytical approach to some aspects of quarrying.

When recruiting graduates, it is important to have a strong plan in place for determining suitable graduates, as well as a development plan in order to retain them. The plan should be communicated to the graduate and their feedback sought to maximise the chance of them staying with the company.

Kurt Hine has been working for Winstone Aggregates since completing a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Canterbury. Winstone Aggregates first employed him as a summer intern over the university break before his final year of study.

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