By Tess Macallan, Journalist, Mining Magazine
An inclusive and diverse workforce means a stronger, more productive mining industry. With the recent launch of its Sisters in Maintenance program, Thiess is providing new pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to enter the industry.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of Thiess’ Sisters in Mining, a program supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to transition into the mining sector as trainee haul truck drivers.
Building off the success of Sisters in Mining, Thiess has launched Sisters in Maintenance, a 12-month pre- apprenticeship traineeship program that leads to a Certificate II in Engineering upon program completion.
Thiess Group Manager Diversity and Inclusion, Nevinia Davenport, said, “The Sisters in Maintenance program is born out of Thiess’ reconciliation commitment to ensuring the economic benefits of mining contribute to, and empower, the cultural and social aspirations of our First Nations peoples through the creation of long-term employment opportunities.”
Supporting skills development
The 2023 program is based in the Pilbara and will focus on maintenance to help address skill shortages in a traditionally male-dominated area of the sector. Modules are undertaken at TAFE before the participants are deployed to the site.
“Once onsite, the participants have a number of site maintenance rotations to provide exposure to the areas of the operations such as auto electrical and heavy diesel fitting,” Ms Davenport said.
The program features a strong focus on health and safety in the work environment, as well as practical manual handling components.
Diversity and Inclusion Officers, TAFE mentors and Thiess Training Advisors provide support for the participants.
The inaugural year of the program was available to local indigenous women in the Port Hedland area.
“Our programs aim to tackle several challenges that women face in the industry,” Ms Davenport said.
“One of these is the disparity in educational qualifications between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their industry colleagues. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are over five times as likely to have the completion of high school as their highest form of qualification. This indicates a significant gap in access to higher education and professional development opportunities.
“Thiess’ programs aim to bridge the education gap and create equal opportunities for women to thrive in their careers.”
Ten years of Sisters in Mining
Launched in 2013 in partnership with Wesfarmers Curragh, the Sisters in Mining program features an induction program to kick-start participants’ careers as Thiess trainee-haul truck operators.
Studies undertaken during the traineeship lead toward a nationally-recognised Certificate III in Surface Extraction Operations – supported by life skills training and ongoing mentoring support throughout the traineeship.
“Sisters in Mining has been maximising employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island women in Central Queensland for more than ten years,” Ms Davenport said.
The program has supported 75 women through to successful completion, with around 90 per cent of those women being offered permanent employment at Thiess.
“As a society, we still have a long way to go to change the perception that organisations are employing women to hit a target,” Ms Davenport said.
“While we have these targets, it’s not our motivation.
“We know that inclusive and diverse workplaces improve business performance. Teams that are more diverse are safer, more productive and have a better culture.”
This year, the company’s Lake Vermont team hosted 12 new trainees during the induction program and welcomed six new full-time employees across its projects following successful completion of the program.
Alumni have also gone on to be recognised by industry. Lisa Campbell, a Multi-skilled Operator from Lake Vermont , was named a finalist in the 2023 Exceptional Indigenous Person in Queensland Resources category at the Queensland Resources Council Indigenous Awards.
In 2022, Nicole Shibasaki, a Dispatch Officer for Thiess, was named the Exceptional Indigenous Person at the same awards.
Pathways to success
Sisters in Maintenance also provides a pathway into the mining industry with the option to proceed to a full-time apprenticeship or consider other positions in Thiess’ diverse team. As a 2023 participant, Philomena is one of the first women to undertake the program. She said she came across Sisters in Maintenance on social media.
“I was scrolling through Facebook and an advert kept popping up so I clicked on it and applied. It sounded like a really good opportunity and something different.
“It has been a great experience so far, I have learnt a whole different side of something I previously knew nothing about. Everyone has been very supportive which makes it much more comfortable.”
With the program still far from over, Philomena has yet to decide where her new skills will take her.
“I’m hoping to gain more knowledge and upskill myself around the maintenance side of mining,” Philomena said.
“From there, I’ll just continue to pursue what interests me.”
Philomena offered words of encouragement for those who might be considering applying for Sisters in Maintenance.
“Get out of your comfort zone, be confident, try something different and never doubt yourself. It’s an amazing program and it is still a learning process and everyone is respectful, supportive and friendly.”