Award recognises today’s and tomorrow’s brightest, best

The Alec Northover Training Award (also known as the Alex Northover Award), presented and sponsored by the Australian Institute of Quarrying Education Foundation (AIQEF), recognises the best prepared portfolio of evidence submitted to a registered training organisation (RTO) by an applicant seeking accreditation in the Certificate IV, Diploma or Advanced Diploma programs in extractive surface operations or extractive industries management. The successful recipient receives a grant of $2500.

The AIQEF also makes available allowances of up to $2000 each for the three award finalists to attend the IQA’s annual conference (at which the award is presented), assisting with expenses for registration, accommodation and travel.

In selecting the Alec Northover Award winner, a panel judges a nominee’s portfolio on:

  • The inclusion of plentiful and relevant evidence, including substantiation of ongoing daily engagement with and commitment to the relevant aspects of the qualification to a nominee’s work over an extended period of time.

  • The overwhelming quality of the support material, which highlights the nominee’s direct involvement in the preparation, implementation and application of the knowledge and skills required in each competency unit.

  • The outstanding commitment to detail in the preparation and clear organisation of the portfolio, which demonstrates a disciplined approach to the application of the course content.

  • The 2017 judging panel of Virginia Hilliard (panel chairman), Angus McDouall, Danny Duke, Jim Hankins and Shane Burton agreed the top three portfolios were those presented by:

  • The 2017 award winner Christopher Cooke, the manager of Hanson Australia’s Molong Quarry at Molong, New South Wales. Chris was nominated by the RTO Mine Resilience for the portfolio he prepared for his Diploma.

  • Finalist Simon Ashman, Holcim’s quarries manager for North Queensland. Mine Resilience also nominated Simon for the portfolio he prepared for his Advanced Diploma.

  • Finalist Jolin Evans, a quarry supervisor at Boral’s Dundowran Quarry, in Hervey Bay, Queensland. Jolin was nominated by the Boral Construction Materials RTO for the portfolio he prepared for his Certificate IV.

The contenders and the winner of the Alec Northover Award were announced in a ceremony at the IQA conference in Toowoomba on 6 October, 2017. AIQEF chairman David Cilento formally congratulated Chris Cooke and Simon Ashman at the ceremony (Jolin Evans was not able to attend).

Pursuit of further learning

All three finalists were quizzed for this feature about the importance of education and what motivated them to undertake further studies after spending many years in the extractive industry.

Chris Cooke, for example, had more than 30 years’ experience in the industry, having started as a rock driller before moving into plant operating and ultimately into supervisory and management roles. He had been a mechanic before going into quarrying and had never previously sought a formal qualification in the industry.

{{quote-A:R-W:300-I:2-Q:"The learning not only reaffirmed my understanding of all areas but also encouraged me to strive for best practice in order to make the sites I look after safe and as efficient as possible."-WHO:Simon Ashman, Holcim’s quarries manager for North Queensland}}As a Hanson employee, the company encouraged him to enrol in further study, culminating in the Diploma of Surface Operations Management. Chris joked that he never envisaged receiving the Alec Northover Award because when he first started his studies he thought a hyperlink “was a very fast train in Japan”!

Simon Ashman has had more than 20 years’ extractive industry experience, having worked in multiple roles for Tarmac (including stints as a quarry manager and an asphalt plant manager) in the United Kingdom, before migrating to Australia.

He has spent five years at Holcim, both as a campaign manager for North Queensland and as the production manager at Holcim’s Bohle Quarry, near Townsville. Simon held a prior extractive industry qualification – a Diploma in Quarry Technology, from the University of Derby, UK – before beginning his Advanced Diploma in Extractive Industries Management.

Simon needed little persuasion to continue with formal education and training. “I love learning everything about quarrying and all associated disciplines,” he said. “You never know everything and to continue to learn from all people in all areas can only help myself and my career, it can assist all those whom I manage. It’s important being able to pass on learning and best practice in the field.”

Jolin Evans does not necessarily have as extensive experience as Chris or Simon but can still boast of being in the industry for nearly 12 years. He spent more than seven years at a small quarry operation as a plant operator and shift supervisor before joining Boral as a plant operator four years ago. In the ensuing time, Jolin has been promoted to his current supervisor role at the Dundowran Quarry.

Before commencing his studies for the Certificate IV in Surface Extraction Operations, Jolin had completed the Certificate III in Extractive Industries and also had a prior Certificate IV in agriculture.

Jolin said that while further education was a requirement within Boral for supervisors and managers, he felt personally that “I had a lot to prove to myself anyway”.

All three Alec Northover Award finalists agreed that the knowledge they had attained from their courses had been important to their ongoing daily tasks in the quarrying environment.

“I would say important,” Jolin said, “because I have always had input into processes but now it’s more involved. The financials were a big one for me but all of the learning has been really good. I think we also benefitted from site visits each month while we were doing the classes. Different sites had different applications, it was interesting to see what the other sites were doing and there was also the opportunity to network with other sites, which gives you a bit more back-up and assistance.”

Chris nominated information gathering as the number one aspect of his learning. “Gathering the information made me realise how important documentation and diaries are,” he remarked.

Simon said the learning not only “reaffirmed my understanding of all areas but also encouraged me to strive for best practice in order to make the sites I look after safe and as efficient as possible. Again, what I learn is passed on, making the industry a better, safer place to work”.

Tying back to the workplace

Depending on the curriculum set by the RTO, the Certificate IV course in Surface Extraction Operations can require participants to complete up to 15 units of competency – five compulsory and 10 elective units over a 12- to 24-month period.

The Diploma course may comprise of 13 units of competency, two of which are compulsory – identifying, implementing and maintaining legal compliance requirements, and implementing and maintaining management systems to control risk.

{{image3-a:r-w:300}}The Advanced Diploma course may also consist of up to 14 units, with 10 to be chosen from more than 20 topics and up to four from a Diploma or Advanced Diploma level training package or accredited course.

“Doing the Diploma with the core information in the course has given me and my team a better understanding of the topics and how to better implement them on-site, keeping the information more direct, simple and easy to adapt,” Simon said.

As part of the Advanced Diploma, Simon’s electives focused on workplace health and safety and risk management, the community consent to operate, mining excellence, processing excellence, and a final project/presentation.

“All these modules had subsections,” Simon added, “which, with all the industry experts within the course, made the learning enjoyable and informative, giving me another insight into subjects that form part of my role. The knowledge enhanced my understanding and enabled me to question anything I did not fully understand. The whole training package was designed to help with the industry’s needs and to learn as a group, pulling from all disciplines. It is not often this calibre of people are in the same room at any one time, so this was a real plus to my learning.”

On the Certificate IV course, Jolin had to complete five compulsory units – environmentally sustainable work practices, communication, compliance reporting, site risk management systems, and safety. The 10 elective units included: compliance systems; supervisor processing operations; communicating information; high risk management, compliance and planning; mobile plant supervision; site risk management systems; maintenance management plans; health and safety investigations; application of systems for stable mining; quality management systems; environmental sustainability; workplace health and safety policies and procedures; leadership; and financial reports.

Jolin said that while many of these topics were not new to him in his capacity as a quarry supervisor, they nonetheless warranted interest. “The structure was basically set by senior management, as to what they thought we would take the most value out of, but most of the subjects were actually quite good.

For me, the greatest topic of interest was the financial reports, just getting to know all your P&Ls [profit and loss statements] better, doing the drill down, because you get the reports and you’re asked questions like ‘What’s that?’ They were all the questions I was asking but they were simplified and coming from the accountant, so it worked very well.”

Time management

Given quarrying personnel can work extremely long days and nights, and may also have demanding family lives as well, then engaging in vocational education calls for an organised time management approach.

For a then relatively new dad in Jolin, it was, as he laughed good-naturedly, a “struggle”.

“At that point we were working 12 hour days Monday to Friday, plus Saturdays,” he recalled, “and when I was going away for the classes, I was two days away from work, plus I’d have to go the day before. At the time, my son was only six months old when we started, so it was pretty hard on my wife. I even completed one of the modules while I was on holidays as well. It was more about trying to fit the studies in amongst the running of daily life, but we managed.”

Simon Ashman stated that he had “no worries at all” juggling work and family life with study commitments. “Being committed to your role and career makes it easy,” he said. “Working with what you are learning and adapting that learning to day to day operations is part of the homework and assignments.”

Chris also reported no major difficulties between work, study and family. “Initially, I thought there would be a clash,” he said, “but once I started, it flowed easily.”

Chris’s reaction to receiving the 2017 Alec Northover Award has already been documented above. For Simon and Jolin, just being nominated for the award, let alone receiving commendations for the quality of their portfolios, was an honour.

“I was over the moon,” Simon said. “Before I came to Australia five years ago, I was looking at the Holcim website and seeing operators acknowledged for best practice and the commitment that they add to the industry and company. That was also my goal, so being nominated for an award in the industry I enjoy was an added bonus.”

Jolin also was completely unprepared for the news. “I was actually quite surprised,” he laughed. “I actually didn’t think I’d achieve recognition at all, especially being considered on a national level. Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually make the IQA conference for the presentation for other reasons but it was a fair shock to actually be nominated at such a high level.”

Despite effectively being “rivals” for the same award, Chris and Simon travelled to Toowoomba together for the conference and subsequently became good mates.

“Simon is a true gentleman,” Chris said. “We got to know each other and formed a good friendship. It was no problem at all that we were both in the running for the Alec Northover Award.”

Simon was equally as complimentary of Chris. “The trip together was really enjoyable. I did not see Chris as a contender, more a colleague who is engaged in a common practice and goal, to better educate and learn. It was a great opportunity to network and to gain insights into another site’s ideas and best practice.”

Future nominations

{{image4-a:r-w:300}}All three finalists for the Alec Northover Award encourage this year’s generation of students and their RTOs to make nominations for 2018.

Jolin Evans, who may yet undertake a diploma in the future, said the award was “a good incentive – if you take it out, you have the additional funding for formal training.

“But it’s also good to have the award or a commendation behind you – you can say, ‘I’ve achieved this!’ Not a lot of people can say that they have,” Jolin said. “It just shows the level of commitment that that person is going to strive for. It will also look great on your resume, so that will help with future development opportunities.”

Simon Ashman said the award “is a great accolade to the hard work that is put into the training needs of any company and is a great recognition to any personal goal and achievement”.

However, the final word goes to the winner Chris Cooke who put it simply and sweetly: “You never know – it could be just what’s required!”

The Alec Northover Award is being offered again in 2018. For more information about the award and other IQA and sponsored awards, visit

Applications and nominations close on 31 July, 2018. The awards will be presented at CMIC18, Sydney, from 19 to 21 September, 2018.

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