26 May 2009
By Emily Roberts, HighGrade.net
A DISGRUNTLED exercise physiologist, Michelle Osborne decided to expand her horizons by travelling and working in Canada for a year. However, the overseas sojourn did not completely whet her appetite for a career change. It wasn’t until she came back to her home in Queensland and heard the mining industry was recruiting workers that the idea of becoming a haul truck driver entered Osborne’s head. That was in 2006 and less than a year later she had become Coppabella coal mine’s first female haul truck driver, and is now the head trainer for new recruits.
Osborne was not the first female employed by Macarthur Coal (the owner of Coppabella in central Queensland) in the production department (she was originally employed as an office clerk at the mine), she was the first and remains the only female assessor employed by Macarthur Coal, and is one of only three women in the coal industry’s mines rescue teams. In the next 2-5 years, Osborne says she has aspirations to further her training and assessing skills, and become a surface mine examiner. She would also like to work overseas in the mining industry if an opportunity arose.
The endless opportunities and challenges were what initially attracted her to the mining industry and remained attractions three years later, Osborne told HighGrade.
“To be honest, operating a haul truck can be extremely tedious and if I only did that I probably wouldn’t be in the industry today as I need stimulation, variety and challenge to maintain job satisfaction,” she said. “I have been very lucky that Macarthur Coal has given me numerous opportunities for variety and growth. I have been able to build upon my natural abilities of people and teaching skills that I honed as an exercise physiologist, but I have also been thrown well and truly out of my mental and physical comfort zones. It is this combination of confidence building, personal development and challenge that keeps me engrossed with the mining industry.”
Osborne graduated in 1998 from the University of Queensland with a bachelor degree in Applied Science majoring in Human Movement. She then worked for seven years as an exercise physiologist before travelling overseas.
“After spending a year travelling I was very interested in a career that would continue to satisfy my new found sense of wanderlust,” she said. “I considered (and discarded) everything from travel agent through to underwater diving instructor to rafting guide. It wasn’t until I was back in my home town of Mackay that I began to hear about ‘chicks on trucks’ and the fabulous perks of the mining industry, namely great pay and loads of time off which equals freedom to travel.
“But it also piqued my interest with the challenge of doing something that was completely out of the box, way out of my comfort zone and offered innumerable personal and professional development opportunities.”
Osborne said her role, however, had not been without its challenges. “Overcoming a male-dominated culture has been overcome by personally always maintaining integrity and standing up for myself in any disagreeable situations, and on a company level Macarthur Coal has undertaken a number of cultural workshops and diversity training with employees to facilitate and encourage a positive shift in industry culture,” she said. “Industry wide, a push to employ large numbers of females into the industry has greatly helped to overcome cultural barriers and perceptions in a relatively short period of time.”
But there was still not enough representation of women in higher positions, she said.
“As more women enter and are retained in the mining industry I see an increasing number move into higher positions such as trainer/ assessors, crew supervisors, production superintendents, open-cut examiners and mine managers. In my opinion it is still uncommon to see women operating a range of auxillary heavy equipment such as shovels, draglines, excavators, dozers, etc. In comparison to their male counterparts, there is only a small percentage of multi-skilled female operators, with a number of years of mining experience, currently in the mining industry.
“It is these women who are our future leaders. Until more women are multi-skilled and experienced at the coal face we won’t see a significant change in the numbers of females in pivotal roles. I do believe, however, that we are successfully heading in this direction and, therefore, these are key areas for opportunities for women in the future.”
With one of only a handful of mining companies with a female CEO, Macarthur Coal is setting some trends. Headed by Nicole Hollows, the company is helping show the industry that women are willing and able to work in the mining industry. But it must be on worth, not obligation, says Osborne.
“I strongly believe that jobs should be awarded on merit and women should not be placed in roles just because we want more representation,” she said. “This would only serve to harm our cause. However, groups such as the Women in Mining network help to recognise those women that are worthy of pivotal roles in our industry.
“Publicising the contributions made by such women can only help to change industry perceptions. These groups can also help by recognising and mentoring up and coming women who show potential to be leaders in the industry.”
Hollows, is of course, a case in point.
“The mining game, especially at the top, is still very much a man’s world, yet Nicole has proven herself to be one of the top players in the industry and has been recognised continuously for her contributions,” Osborne said. “I personally like that she makes an effort to regularly visit the mine site to personally address the crews in an approachable and transparent manner. She shows a human face of the corporate machine and in doing so I believe helps to make us all feel a part of the company and not just a number.
“She inspires not just me, but my other female colleagues, to strive for the top in this traditionally male-dominated industry.”
Osborne was recently recognised for her contribution to the mining industry, awarded the Resources Award for Women -Operator Category by the Queensland Resources Council.