The Mining School of Excellence

If you drive about six hundred kilometres north of Adelaide you’ll find yourself in the small outback town of Roxby Downs. Drive just a little bit further north and you’ll be at the gates of BHP’s Olympic Dam mine site. 

Olympic Dam boasts the fourth largest copper deposit and largest known single deposit of uranium in the world. Operating as both an open cut and underground mine, Olympic Dam has approximately 4000 workers, including locals from the nearby outback towns, and FIFO from Adelaide.

But perhaps the most interesting fact about Olympic Dam is that it also has nearly 700km of underground roads and tunnels servicing it. This underground mining operation requires a unique set of skills that need to be learned in a safe environment.

The Mining School of Excellence, which aims to create new opportunities for people without experience in mining, is one such training program. Started in 2018, it is a tailored 5 week course of theory and practical training. 

Its students come from a wide range of backgrounds, from baristas, through to elite cyclists. Building a workforce with a diverse range of people, skills, and backgrounds creates new ideas and more innovation.

New ideas and more innovation is what lead to a new way to train students in mining. Instead of tossing them the keys to a huge truck with a Learner plate, the MSoE has invested in a state-of-the-art simulator that gives students hands on experience driving large trucks both above ground and below.

Loaded with multiple machinery types and maps, the simulator is a set of projectors connected to realistic controls that mimic what students will experience when the time comes to experience the real thing. 

Rod, who is a production training specialist at Olympic Dam, says that ‘the simulator is a good, safe environment for the operators to learn new machines. They’re not exposed to any production pressure. It’s cool, it’s quiet, and it’s comfortable. There’s no pressure. So, they’re the benefits to simulator training as opposed to in-the-field training.” 

Rod stands behind Lisa as she navigates a loader through a tunnel. Lisa who currently works in development, came into BHP as a barista with no knowledge or experience at all, and she considers the MSoE a good way to start off.

‘They gave me the confidence to go out and work on my own, to be able to work in a group, to take on new roles underground as I move forward in my career,’ she reflects. ‘Currently, I’m learning to charge. So next step for me will be the loader and then the jumbo. Hopefully in the next couple of years I can see myself up there.’

The simulator is one part of the Mining School of Excellence, which follows on from the mining school. These training programs are crucial to helping create new jobs and opportunities.