Louise Faint grew up on a farm between the Barossa and Clare Valleys in South Australia and always knew she wanted to be an engineer. The high-profile Olympic Dam mine near Roxby Downs put mining engineering on her radar, and she was one of the first cohorts through University of Adelaide’s Mining Engineering Program.
Now she’s had experience from front line operations through to Superintendent for Underground Support Services. As a woman in mining she says the future is bright; “there’s always something different happening and every day is varied”.
A Career in Problem Solving
Louise was great at maths and science in school and grew up “running around after dad doing all the farm stuff with my sister. We were never told we couldn’t do anything because we were girls.”
She knew engineering was somewhere she could apply analytical skills to problem-solving, and hearing that engineering is a man’s world said, “well bugger that, that’s what I’ll go and do!”
Louise likes “to see things happen. You’re faced with a problem, devise a solution and get to see that through to completion.”
At University she did work experience at Challenger Gold Mine, then spent six years working in a copper mine in Mt Isa, far north Queensland with Glencore Mount Isa Mines.
Louise “spent a year underground on the tools really getting to understand how mining works. It’s a bit different to what you get told in uni!” She then spent a few years working various scheduling, planning and design roles before heading back underground as a frontline supervisor for both development and production crews, managing teams of up to 25 people per shift. After some time as Senior Production Engineer working in a project role supporting production operations, Louise decided it was time to move back home to South Australia.
She joined one of OZ Mineral’s flagship operations at Prominent Hill, a Fly-In-Fly-Out (FIFO) operation south east of Coober Pedy.
What’s It Like Working FIFO?
I imagined a mine site to be rooms filled with bunk beds and giant mess halls – something like military boot camp. Turns out I was completely incorrect!
OZ Minerals has excellent support for women on site, with full women’s facilities, their own change room and toilet blocks. Everyone (men and women) has their own room with an ensuite bathroom and a lock-up wardrobe, so you can store items onsite. Louise “turns up with a backpack with my laptop and maybe some toiletries.”
Food is provided, your room is made up on arrival, and the best part seems to be your colleagues. Louise says, “you establish really good friendships with everyone on site. The people become your second family, because you spend half your life with them.”
The work is incredibly varied day-to-day, with underground and improvement projects, a Mine Control team who record all the shift locations, statistics and do emergency management, Paste and Service crews who manage air, water, dewatering and maintenance underground and Drill and Blast teams who drill into the ground and manage the blast area.
Louise’s responsibility as Underground Support Services Superintendent is everything that supports the operational mining team.
The normal mine shift at Prominent Hill is 8 days on (including a day each to fly in and out) and 6 days off. Louise has a team member who’s just returned from parental leave and works a shorter shift of 4 days on and 3 days off every second week, so there are flexible options for parents.
Flexibility in Mining
Mining doesn’t come to mind when thinking of industries that support flexible working, but there are options. I was surprised to learn that Louise works from the mine site, from the Adelaide office and from home for her ‘on’ days.
Of course, flexibility is dependent on role requirements and OZ Minerals allows flexibility for roles that need to be onsite by way of shift-swapping. Louise says, “OZ Minerals is very clear that flexible working is how we do business. If someone comes to you with a flexible working suggestion, the first answer is not allowed to be no.”
Should You Do It?
I asked Louise what her advice is to graduates considering working in a mine, and her response was unequivocal!
“Absolutely come to mining and give it a go. It’s not the industry that media makes it out to be. It’s fast-paced with lots of opportunities and you can be in positions of leadership; even as a production engineer you’re making million-dollar decisions.”
You can also get into mining as a lateral shift (often people join from geology) and to them Louise also says,
“There are opportunities to travel and see things happen quickly. It’s such a door opener and a varied engineering discipline; there’s always something different happening!”
The people most likely to succeed are:
- Open and willing to establish relationships.
- Adaptable, because every day can look different.
- Agile with learning new technologies and different ways of approaching things.
- Willing to try new things.
There are lots of opportunities in mining, if you take initiative and build relationships.
Suggestions for taking advantage of opportunities in mining apply to every industry, and Louise had some helpful ideas:
- Build relationships and find mentors to help when you come up against obstacles.
- Collaborate and partner with your colleagues.
- Have a fail-fast mentality so you learn and move on.
- Be transparent when things go wrong, as there are always lessons to take away.
- Put in the hard yards.
- Get hands-on experience if you work in a technical industry; “None of us would be the engineers we are if we hadn’t spent time on the tools.”
With everything she’s achieved so far, and the opportunities she’s managed to take advantage of, Louise now says;
“I feel really proud of my career. I’ve learned so much in the past 8 years, and I’m really proud of the confidence I’ve grown and the leader that I can see myself becoming now.”