08/06/2008, By Jessica Darnbrough
The Bowen Basin has long been thought of as the resources hub of Queensland. Spanning approximately 60,000 square kilometres and with a total population of just over 40,000, the area comprises primarily of coal reserves and mining related communities. According to recent research commissioned by the Minerals Council, employment in the already buoyant minerals sector is set for even stronger growth, with a 70% increase expected by 2020. With the skills shortage already at boiling point, it is unlikely that this target will be met without increasing the number of females in the resources sector.
Last year, the total employment of women amongst QRC member companies in Queensland was 11% with women making up 7% of non-traditonal roles, according to a survey commissioned by the Queensland Resource Council. The QRC aims to increase this 7% to at least 12% by 2020.
The Bowen Basin has attempted to make the industry and area more enticing to women through various initiatives to both retain and attract women into the industry. The area was recognised at the 2008 Queensland Resource Council awards for women for its dedication to helping women into the resources sector by making the work more family friendly.
BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance’s Blackwater Mine was recognised for its pivotal role in encouraging women into the sector by opening a licensed child care facility available to the Blackwater community. The vacation care and out of schools hours care centre, run in partnership with the Blackwater PCYC helped the mine attract and retain female employees.
According to Roger Atkins, Director of the Queensland Minerals and Energy Academy (QMEA) women are critical to the resources sector, not just because there is a skills shortage plaguing the nation, but also because they are dedicated, hard working individuals and are seen by many minesites as the preferred truck drivers due to the level of care they possess and provide. “One mine located in regional Queensland just wants to hire female truck drivers because they feel women treat the machinery better than men,” Atkins told Australian Mining. “There is an interesting difference in maintenance: men might drive back to the workshop and say the differential has had it, while women will say “I am hearing this and feeling this”, which allows the maintenance workers to go systematically through what the problem might be.”
The Bowen Basin is currently helping set the agenda for the rest of the nation. Mine’s such as Xstrata’s Ernest Henry are helping chip away the barriers that are currently inhibiting women from pursuing a career in the industry.
Ernest Henry Mine located around 38 km north-east of Cloncurry in north-west Queensland, created a Newborn Production Support program to ensure that pregnancy and maternity leave is not a barrier for women working in the mining industry. Women make up almost 30% of the mine’s workforce, which is significantly above the industry average of 11%.
The program provides flexible working arrangements to allow women to continue working safely while pregnant and to facilitate their return to work after maternity leave.
The mine also offers paid maternity leave of up to 10 weeks. Currently about 10% of women working at the mine are expecting children.
Thiess’ Burton Coal mine HR superintendent Brenda Witt knows what it is like to juggle a family and a career in the mining sector. Witt works a Monday to Friday roster, living in camp on-site. With two children and a husband Witt told Australian Mining that life can get a bit hectic at times, but, the Bowen Basin offers unrivalled opportunities for women in mining. “At Burton we have recently employed a technical support engineer who is working from home,” she said. “We are constantly looking at different working arrangements to fill vacancies with professional females in the area. I believe that the coal mining “boom” could not be sustained without women and this is being understood more and more from a skills shortage perspective. Diversity in any industry is a valuable thing and with mining I have seen women bring new ways of thinking to issues or problems.”
BMA Coal principal geologist Donna Frater agrees that women play a pivotal role in the mining industry. “Not just now when the skills crisis is encouraging the development of flexible work packages and skill development, but at all times it is a much healthier environment to have a workplace that reflects some of the social norms of more women,” Frater told Australian Mining. “Women can add a balancing dimension to a workplace ” from a maintenance bay to an exploration rig” and women can not only hold their own but add a beneficial influence through increased communication skills and safety aspects.”
According to Frater, working in the mining sector can often be demanding work. Frater constantly travels through Mackay, Emerald and Moranbah to complete project works.
“The direct flights from Brisbane and Townsville to Moranbah and the flights into Mackay and Emerald have dramatically opened up access to and from the Bowen Basin,” she said. These flights combined with various support and professional advocacy groups are helping push the Bowen Basin into the spotlight.
Networking groups provide a forum to report on success stories, encourage students into mining and most importantly, highlight the advantages of increasing women in the workforce.
Mining companies in the Bowen Basin have made every effort to crush the stereotype that mining is a male-dominated environment. The area hosts several networking events each year, to help promote the mining industry to women. Women in Mining and Resources Queensland (WIMARQ) was established in 2005 as a support network for women in the industry.
This year, Witt helped bring WIMARQ to Moranbah, to give women a chance to network with others facing a similar situation. “Being a wife and mother and working full time can put pressure on any female or family. Meeting other women who are or have been in similar work situations is extremely important for development and support,” Witt said. “Women appreciate the opportunity to share with each other strategies for balancing work and home life. It’s important that we highlight the success of women in mining to attract future generations, and organisations like WIMARQ help promote the good work of women in mining. Being a superintendent on a minesite gives other young females someone or something to “look up to” and helps them realise they can make a career within the mining industry.”
Networking events such as these combined with scholarships from the Queensland Resources Council (QRC) are helping encourage young women into the resources industry. The Council offers several scholarships to young women who chose to study Engineering at University. The scholarship includes $40,000 which covers textbooks, course costs and living expenses. Recipients must uphold an average grade point average of 5.5 and seek out a career in the energy and resources sector before graduating.
Andrea Dale is one of the scholarship recipients. Dale is completing a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil and Construction) at Queensland’s University of Technology and has already attended engineering camps where she was expected to design a product and follow it through to the proposal stage. Dale grew up and around the mines and enjoys living and working in a rural community. Dale told Australian Mining that more women should enter the resources industry as they are just as competent and can help solve the current skills shortage dilemma. “We need more women in the mining industry as it is an important place to prove that women are needed in the professional world, not just the family one. Women help keep the workplace civil and provide diversity,” she said.
Similarly Sophia Johnson, also a QRC scholarship recipient, said women are necessary in mining as they help bring a fresh perspective. Johnson, who is currently studying a Bachelor of Engineering (Mining) at the University of Queensland, wants to pursue a career in the resources sector for the challenge. “When working in the mines, it seems as though you are working in a completely different world,” Johnson told Australian Mining. “The resources industry has built a high profile for itself, mining companies are making it well known that they take care of their employees and are offering a lot to work towards skill retention.”
Queensland Minerals and Energy Academy
Project Development Group
BMA Coal Operations