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Iain Riek - Graduate Engineer Mechanical-Mining

01 MAY 2022

Graduate Engineer Mechanical / Mining

Tell us a bit about your role at South32

As a graduate at South32 I get to work in various areas, developing skills needed to be an effective member of the team and learn where my skillset can most effectively be utilised at the end of the program. Currently, I am a graduate engineer in the production planning team at GEMCO, mainly focusing on short term planning, such as creating pit designs and mining strategy.

My role involves designing how we will mine each pit using dozers and/or excavators and trucks utilising several distinct mining techniques to move overburden to uncover the ore. From there, I design drill and blast plans so we can recover the ore ready for processing in the plant. I, and the rest of the team, are also responsible for designing the road network, dumps and many ancillary things such as drains to ensure that the mine can operate all year round; including during the (very) wet season. Currently, I am in the process of learning how to create the mining schedule.

What were you up to before you started your graduate position?

I grew up in Brisbane and now live there with my young family.

I graduated school and spent a week at uni before dropping out and decided I was going to go and play with race-cars, completing trade apprenticeships as both a mechanic and a maintenance fitter and gained a diploma of motorsport in the process. But over the years I still felt the desire to go back and study engineering.

When I graduated in 2019, I was offered a graduate mining engineer role with Eagle Downs Metallurgical Coal, working on the feasibility study for an underground metallurgical coal project that South32 had recently become involved in. It was an amazing experience to come in at the initial phase of the project with potential to move through the study, construction and operations phases. When that project didn’t proceed, I was offered a grad opportunity at South32’s GEMCO operation in 2021 as a graduate mechanical engineer.

What do you like most about your job?

There is always a new challenge, whether technical, practical, or operational. I most enjoy the problem-solving aspects of my job.

In the short-term planning space where I am currently, I get to work with many different stakeholders from across GEMCO, which is great for networking and getting an insight into what different teams do. I have the opportunity to work directly with the operations team and see how a pit design goes from concept to a design on a computer to an active mining area on the ground.

What are some of the challenges about your job?

There are a few things, firstly, this is a FIFO role, and FIFO life takes some getting used to, both as a young engineer just starting out and when you get a bit older and have a family.

The remoteness here at GEMCO can be a bit of a shock to the system as well. The only real way to get here is a flight from Darwin or Cairns, there are very few of the conveniences most people are used to in cities or towns, phone / internet signal can range between average and non-existent and during the summer months there is always the risk of cyclones.

On the flip side, these limitations teach you to be self-sufficient, can be an adventure, the job pays well, and you get the positive lifestyle aspects of working FIFO.

What advice would you give to students looking to apply for a graduate position?

Its ok to not know exactly what you want to do after uni. That’s what grad programs are for!

Diversify your knowledge and interests – not only is it interesting to try new things, but it can give you a competitive advantage and a unique perspective.

Once you finish uni no one really cares what your GPA is, so do your best, enjoy uni and life while you can – there is plenty of time to stress once you reach the workforce, but don’t forget, a good workplace will generally not be high stress.