Meeting Place

How an Indigenous traineeship program is transforming a coal mine

It is often stated that an inclusive and diverse workplace will outperform those that are less inclusive and diverse. What is not as regularly discussed is the opportunity it provides to those who secure roles within it – and the enthusiasm, focus and precision they can bring to the job when they do so.

The Mines Traineeship Program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders at BHP Mitsui Coal (BMC) Poitrel in Queensland, Australia, in partnership with labour hire services provider Mickala Mining, has profoundly changed lives.

Since its inception two years ago, 43 Indigenous workers have joined us, over 70 per cent of those female

Since its inception two years ago, 43 Indigenous workers have joined us, over 70 per cent of those female, and we have experienced a 95 per cent retention rate. It has lifted BMC Poitrel’s Indigenous workforce more than sixfold, from 1.8 per cent to 11.6 per cent, and female representation at BMC Poitrel to 24.2 per cent.

BHP has a target for Indigenous employment across our Australian operations of 5.75 per cent of our total managed workforce by FY2020 and has an aspirational goal to achieve gender balance globally by CY2025. While we have a long way to go on both counts, this initiative shows you can make big strides in a relatively short time.

Many participants in the Mines Traineeship Program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have now completed a Certificate 2 in Surface Extraction. Many others are nearing certificate completion. Some have moved on and started a Certificate 3 in Minerals Processing. The training, facilitated by Mickala Mining, provides nationally recognised qualifications that mean they can operate machinery at a mine and can identify and manage risk in an open cut environment.

The certificates have markedly improved their employability. Reflecting this, a significant number of trainees have now secured full-time contracts and are wearing a BHP shirt; others have taken full-time employment with one of our external services suppliers.

BMC Operator George Filewood has progressed from the training program to a full-time role with BHP, operating plant equipment at BMC Poitrel. He is enjoying what the program has delivered for him.

“The traineeship was an important achievement for me as it gave me a career opportunity in the mining industry,” George says. “It has enabled me to expand my learning with qualifications, and become an Indigenous role model, all while working on a family lifestyle orientated roster. The traineeship is a fantastic program that has provided great support and encouragement for me to be the best I can be.”

The program then, has been a big success on every level. It has lifted morale, improved safety, and our mine culture surveys show a greater feeling of inclusion. The whole mine community has benefitted.

But the thing I am most proud of is how it has transformed lives. These trainees have come into a large mining environment with big characters and big machinery and have owned it. They have brought a real energy and enthusiasm to their work. They have delivered in high-performance conditions. They are now part of the team and integral to our mine’s success, and the confidence they gain as they progress through their training is clearly visible in their interactions with the rest of the workforce.

In the main administration section at BMC Poitrel we have now established an area called ‘The Meeting Place’. Program trainee Sarah Bowes captured this collective spirit in her artwork to represent the area. The painting acknowledges the people who work at BMC Poitrel and those who have worked here. ‘The Meeting Place’ is now a vital part of our everyday working culture because it celebrates our people and we have added Sarah’s emblem to some of our mine work shirts and our business plans.

For me though, the element that best reflects the program’s success is how the trainees have shared the challenges, opportunities and successes with their families and friends. That we now have over 850 applications on file to join the program shows its popularity – it has set up a sustainable recruitment stream for many years to come.

We are delivering positive, inclusive and constructive change through the Indigenous Mines Traineeship Program at BMC Poitrel, and are excited by the workplace transformation it is delivering. We are now looking at opportunities to take this approach to other business areas.