In a period of global economic uncertainty, coupled with a skills shortage in the minerals and extractive industries, the importance of training and aiding in the professional development of workers has never been more acute. This was emphasised by the launch of a report by the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) in December that highlighted the changing nature of workplace training and recommended government policies to support business training efforts. Ai Group chief executive Heather Ridout warned that industry could not afford to ?repeat the mistakes of the past on training … Skills will remain central to competitiveness and it is vitally important to underpin our investment in skills so that we can survive the economic crisis and emerge to be more productive in the future?. (See News This Month, Quarry, February 2009.)
Two extractive industries companies – Boral and Local Mix Concrete – have clearly been proactive in making considerable investments in the upskilling of their workers. Assistant quarry managers Nelinda White and Jason Gready (both of Boral) and Andrew Evans (Local Mix Concrete) have all greatly appreciated the support of their companies in furthering their education and professional development. This support led them to undertake and successfully complete BHI?s Certificate IV in Extractive Industries Operations.
For all three, the Certificate IV has been integral to moving up through the ranks, in particular making the transition from quarry supervisor to quarry manager.
Nelinda White has worked at Boral?s Yallourn site for nearly 12 years. Fresh out of secondary school, she originally worked for six years in the weighbridge, ?issuing dockets and despatching trucks?, before she moved into Yallourn?s materials testing laboratory for five years and received accreditation from the National Association of Testing Authorities. When Alan Paynter, the former quarry manager at Yallourn, announced that he was stepping down in preparation for retirement, Nelinda was offered the role of assistant quarry manager. Alan also recommended that Nelinda embark on the Certificate IV. ?The Certificate IV was offered as part of the job package?, she said, ?but I had been interested in doing the Certificate IV while I was still working in the laboratory.?
Similarly, Local Mix also offered Andrew Evans the opportunity to undertake the Certificate IV course to build on his management credentials. An expert of 22 years in the sand processing, screening and washing business, he currently operates a 200-tonne per hour Coral Technology processing plant at Local Mix?s Moriac site. As site manager reporting to the quarry manager, Andrew organises the plant machinery, plans work around product requirements and sales and supervises between three and four employees on-site.
?Local Mix offered me the opportunity to do the Certificate IV course,? he said. ?One of the other employees – Gary Barclay – had done the course a year before and he works at Local Mix?s hard rock quarry, so I took up the offer. It was an opportunity for me to progress further within the company.?
Jason Gready, the assistant quarry manager at Boral?s Montrose site, also saw the Certificate IV as an important career move. ?I was offered the opportunity to do the course by my manager,? he explained, ?and while the Certificate IV was a Boral requirement, I considered it a major stepping stone to promotion.?
Jason has been involved in the extractive industries for 13 years, the first seven as a shotfirer in underground gold mine blasting at Stawell Goldmines, followed by six years at Boral, where he has been involved in maintaining safety systems, planning and employee relations.
PUTTING THEORY INTO PRACTICE
Given that the Certificate IV teaches students about becoming better site managers – eg in workplace safety, budgets, management of dredging and blasting operations, and site processing plant operations – the three Certificate IV students were asked if their learnings correlated with their duties on-site. There was a consensus, but each cited different reasons.
?I was performing many of these duties on-site, but my understanding of the operational aspects was not as comprehensive,? Jason answered. ?The Certificate IV has helped me gain a better technical understanding of the operations. I now have a better understanding of site geology and site management. I can see things more from an analytical perspective such as compliance issues, more involvement in day to day staff and long-term planning.?
?I had started training as the assistant manager at Yallourn when I commenced the Certificate IV,? recalled Nelinda, ?so I was carrying out most of the tasks I was learning about while undertaking the course. But what was great was that my mentors – Mick Matarczyk and Alan Paynter at Boral – would take me down to the pit after I?d returned from a week in class and point something out in the pit and ask me how I?d fix that problem. I?d think and respond, but they were good at pointing me in the right direction and explaining their answers to me.
?Doing the course opened my mind to new techniques – to get away from routine practices, to be innovative and to develop your own style of management.?
?Once you do the course, the learnings reinforce your knowledge on-site,? Andrew responded. ?You better understand what needs to be done and the different ways of going about it. I was familiar with the operational knowledge, but my computer skills – my word processing and record keeping skills – were very raw. Everything to do with a computer took me a lot longer than it would have for other people in the class who were up to speed with computers. I guess that?s an advantage for younger people doing the course – they?re up to speed with computer skills even if they don?t have the background knowledge of the operational side of the system.
?From my point of view, the operational knowledge, and I guess a life history of working in the industry, was good for me. I still learnt a lot about quarrying, of course, because the bulk of my work beforehand was in sand processing. Even though I knew a lot about setting up machinery, the knowledge about the stone industry and crushers was very helpful.?
COMBINING WORK WITH STUDY
The Certificate IV requires its students to attend three and a half days of classes in one week each month over nine months. Aside from class time, each student also participates in an on-site mentor programme, with the mentor being someone with whom the student works quite closely. The mentor is required to sign off on each of the competencies that the student successfully completes and is also interviewed by an educator from BHI about the student?s performance. The educator will also inspect the student?s work and test their knowledge on-site.
Andrew, Nelinda and Jason agreed that juggling work with study, both through the Institute and on-site, was a challenge, but worthwhile.
?It was fairly difficult because it was full on,? Andrew reflected. ?I stayed in Melbourne overnight while I was at the Institute, so that helped, and you could work of a night time to catch up, but once you got back on-site, you never had a lot of time. It was a lot of late nights and weekends spent studying and trying to do things, especially considering my computer skills were pretty raw. It was fairly intensive because you don?t have time at work to do anything, particularly on a site like Moriac because we run off a generator. When you?re working, you?re obviously not in the office, you?re running the plant, and then when you shut down, we don?t have power on-site to even have a computer running, so that made things fairly difficult, everything computer-related I had to do at home after work.?
?Whilst studying outside of work,? said Nelinda, ?there were a few things that I had to access from the site to put into my portfolio, and I spent [cumulatively] about 12 days in total compiling all the information for the portfolio. The assignments really weren?t that hard, it was probably just more commonsense, common practice that you are already carrying out in your workplace.?
Jason stated that he was fortunate to be ?starting from a knowledge base. There was some stuff – again the operational aspects – that was new to me. I needed to polish up on the technical aspects, for example, quarry computations and prediction programmes, financial programmes, project management, etc. I was also able to learn more about site geology and about different rock characteristics.
?I had to spend quite a bit of time off-site submitting work to Box Hill Institute. At the start of the study period, work was extremely busy because we were involved in providing road materials for the Eastlink project, so I was doing maybe four to six hours a month, but eventually as the demand died down, I was committing about 15 to 20 hours a month, which included some work on-site. Working on-site is more productive because everything on-site is accessible.?
Another factor that greatly enhanced the Certificate IV for these participants was the opportunity to network, to learn about other quarry operations from their peers and to compare common problems and solutions. ?The interaction with other people was good,? Nelinda said. ?You could talk about problems that you were having at your site and someone else might already have that problem and have solved it, so they gave you suggestions. Although we both work at Boral, Jason is not someone that I would normally have crossed paths with, but since doing the course, I?ve been able to ring a couple of the guys now and again to talk and see how things are going at their end. So, for example, I can ring Jason about a problem and ask ?Have you ever heard of it?? or ?Has it happened to you?? It?s very good. You also make
some friends out of it as well.?
?In our class, some guys were from quarrying and recycling operations,? recalled Jason. ?Their projects were very interesting and it was fascinating to see how people do things differently. There was a lot for all of us to learn in exchanging information about our worksites.?
Andrew agreed that there were a broad range of interesting people, all varying in age, from twenties to thirties to fifties, of which he was in the latter. He also enjoyed the site visits, ?which were probably the most beneficial because you actually had a hands-on view of what was going on. We visited the Oakland Junction quarry, Terex Jacques and Locker Group to view crushers and screeners in operation and we visited VicRoads to see how testing was done on the various road materials?.
WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT
Andrew, Nelinda and Jason wholeheartedly encouraged supervisors and aspiring managers in the quarry industry to study the Certificate IV.
?I would say ?Do it!?? Nelinda said. ?It opens your eyes a lot and it was very good for me. I?d say none of it would have happened if Boral hadn?t been so supportive. Boral has given me ample opportunities to learn different things, so I guess working for a company that is willing to go to any ends to help a person along in their professional development is very good.?
?The advice I have is if you have the opportunity, go for it!? Andrew suggested. ?If you want to stay in the industry and move ahead, then mixing with other people at courses gives you a lot of knowledge about the industry. In fact, you learn just by interacting and talking and dealing with people. I guess getting your computer skills up to scratch would be one of the main bits of advice I have if you are going to do it because that?s the part that I found the hardest. Apart from that, I really enjoyed my time on the course.?
Jason could not ?recommend the course highly enough?, especially as it is suitable for both supervisors and assistant managers. Indeed, he is taking the next step by undertaking the Diploma in Extractive Industries Management at BHI in 2009. At the time of writing, he was still finalising his project, but he said that he would likely ?base it around the streamlining of the load and haul process at Montrose, that is, identifying bottle necks and better ways of improving the load and haul system. There?s quite a few causes for downtime which we can alleviate and so I?ll be looking at ways of improving the productivity of the load and haul team. I?ll have 12 months to do the Diploma. It?s done a lot more on-site or after hours than the Certificate IV, there are not a lot of classroom hours?.
Nelinda also is considering undertaking the Diploma, albeit in 2010, while Andrew has expressed interest in doing some of the Institute?s elective courses to consolidate his skills. ?My main interest, being in a sand washing plant, is control of the water usage and slime, so it is that part I will be following up more as we progress on this site. The drought, of course, has had a major effect, as it has on all sites with water consumption.?
By Damian Christie