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Development potential ? and its many forms

Along with my fellow IQA Victorian Young Members Network co-ordinator Martin Halliday, I attended a symposium in North Queensland last year to speak briefly on young member engagement in quarrying. Despite growing challenges, it was very encouraging to see how much value everyone places on getting the next generation into the industry and up through the ranks. One of the key points revolved around training and development, both getting involved in quarrying initially and as a means of continuing engagement throughout one?s career.

I was invited to speak at the Victorian branch?s Annual Student Presentation Night in April 2011. It?s always a great event where the previous year?s Certificate IV and Diploma students from Box Hill Institute are awarded their qualifications.

One primary theme that I felt it was important to touch on was continuing development. Below is an excerpt from that speech. Hopefully it serves to continue the thinking and discussion about the development of everyone involved with quarrying.

What is your next growth area?
Development can take many forms. A Certificate IV is an obvious one. A two-day course on confined space entry or a short course on mentoring skills are also formal ?development? activities that are easy to put on a list of things achieved. But often the most useful development ? and for me the most satisfying development ? is the self-driven, responsibility specific type, the tasks and learning that we set for ourselves.

A structural engineering professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology once told us a story that when he was a very young engineer he was asked if he could design a parking garage – and in what some might say was a very American response – he said, ?Of course I can. ?So that night he studied up on how to design a parking garage foundation. Then the next night he read up on parking garage column design, and the next night about two-way slabs. Of course, he had the background knowledge to pick it all up, but the point is that to do his job well he had a specific thing he needed to learn, so he did.

During my first year as a quarry engineer there was a lot I didn?t understand about how things worked; mechanically, the operational processes, site communication ? pretty much everything! It was also easy to stick to my comfort zone of the computer and not get out and about. So I made up a little daily engineer?s inspection form. I would record the daily productions, other goings on such as blasts, and had specific parts of the quarry to visit ? the pugmill, the lab, the plant control room, I would check off that I?d stopped at each of these operational places each day.

Admittedly some days it was just a brief ?now I can check that off? type of visit but as I grew more comfortable, and as things would happen, I could start asking questions and learning.

In a very real sense, those inspection forms served as a key part of the foundation of my career. I identified something I needed to learn to do my job well, worked out a method and stuck with it ? and learn I did.

It?s very interesting now to go back and have a look at those forms. In my case, I didn?t really know what I needed to study. My development objective at the time was getting background information. Now am I an expert at quarrying? No, and to be honest I don?t know that I ever will be. I?ve come to the conclusion that thinking about quarrying is easy. Actual quarrying is less easy.

My future development, just like everyone else?s, will depend wholly on what?s expected of me and what I?d like to do. Would a course be useful? Maybe do some research on a particular topic? Just practise running site meetings perhaps? My firm belief is that any activity can play a role in development if you view it as something that will add value to your abilities in the future. Don?t just complete a task, get feedback on how you did. That opens the door to refine your skills and continually plan new ways to improve.

If you see the development potential in everything then you can?t help but improve yourself. If you?re like me, there?ll be many false starts, or you?ll get too swamped to take that slightly wider view, but over time you?ll be farther along than you were, and for me there?s great satisfaction in being that little bit better than I was.

It was a great honour to win the Alex Northover award, and for me the biggest benefit was being able to attend the CMIC 2010 conference. There?s a much wider quarrying community out there that I?m only now getting exposure to, and I think that?s going to provide a lot of benefits for me as my career goes on.

Well, in closing, I want to encourage everyone, but especially the students, to give some thought to what your next growth area is going to be. Maybe it?s big and formal, a Diploma perhaps, maybe it?s just learning that little bit more about how something works, or asking why some document or process is the way it is.

Work out how you can get that knowledge, and whether it takes a day or a year, once you?re done with that, start on the next thing.

Dru Oxley is a quarry engineer for Fulton Hogan, in Tynong North, Victoria, and a member of the IQA Young Members Network. He was the recipient of the Alex Northover Award in 2010.

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