Engineers Anonymous – Part 1

Hi, my name is Simon and I am a recovering engineer. It has been 8 years since my last design and I am proud to say I haven’t fallen off the wagon, yet. Having graduated from engineering 22 years ago I spent a good portion of my career in the ‘doing’ roles of operational engineering and absolutely loved it. 

I look back on those engineering ‘doing’ roles with strong and fond memories of what I have learnt over the years technically, and how different parts of my career helped in developing the non-technical skills to eventually kick my addictive engineering habit. 

I often get asked about career pathways and what avenues are possible. So, I thought I would share a bit of my story from when I graduated to becoming a managing director and beyond, as the first question most people ask me is: Why did I choose engineering and in particular mining engineering? 

Great question and one I struggle to exactly put my finger on, other than to say, I was a bit of a geek, loved building things, enjoyed being outside, really really loved blowing things up and of course loved the big yellow trucks. 

In high-school I visited a mine that probably sealed the deal for me to become a mining engineer. 

I was fortunate enough to get vacation experience at Ranger Uranium Mine while I was in uni. There I worked with an awesome team of people who really cemented my love for mining. They also introduced me to what a high performing culture can do, with a small team exceling in a challenging environment. It was safe to say after this experience I was certainly hooked. 

I finished my degree ready to hit the mining world full of enthusiasm, energy and keen to learn all about mining. BAAM! Right into a brick wall of a major mining downturn. So, I did what most people did back then and wrote countless letters to mining companies and went door knocking in search of a job. After a couple of months of sheer persistence, 106 letters and several interviews I was fortunate enough to get 2 job offers. 

Landed my first job and joined an underground mining contractor who did one of the best things I could have hoped for in the early part of my career; sent me underground as an operator and on crew for 18 months. In a few months I learnt more about mining than I ever did in the 4 years of uni. I worked in close knit teams where trust was critical and often, what kept you from serious harm or worse; gained invaluable hands on experience about mining operations and people management; and developed a vocabulary that would have made Rodney Rude blush. Maybe, that last one wasn’t so great, but the collective experience formed an amazing foundation for my subsequent career. 

From there I jumped on the engineering wagon, which I will explain more about in my next post. 

Don’t forget to leave your comments and questions as I want to make this an interactive series of posts so feel free to fire away and I will aim to include my answers in subsequent posts. 

Feel free to send me an invite to connect at Simon Cohn

How a technical consultant can value-add on your site

Written by Alessandro Dotta – Underground Metals Lead and Principal Mining Engineer at MEC Mining

So, your operation is well-staffed with qualified, trained employees. Your people are pretty committed to a particular project, and everyone seems to be pulling in the same direction. Yet, despite this, you’re not making the advances you’d like to see; there’s progress but the rate is frustratingly slow or the results minimal. You may have considered engaging the services of a technical consultant then dismissed the idea because, well, your team already has plenty of expertise.

Sound familiar?

Well, experience shows that engaging an external consultant can deliver enormous benefits beyond the solving of your initial problem. Here’s how.

A new set of eyes

A consultant brings a new pair of eyes to your operation and a breadth of experience and knowledge from previous secondments which can help identify potential areas for growth or points of weaknesses. As a new arrival on site, the consultant can be objective and not weighed down by past practices or experiences. In this way, having a consultant seconded to your operation is like having your own specialist who can diagnose problems quickly and prescribe remedies.

Collaborative approach

The proximity of an onsite consultant enables a much closer collaborative working relationship with clients. Part of MEC’s approach is to listen closely to, and appreciate the skills of, your onsite experts. This kind of alliance is invaluable in making progress, so the consultant is not merely simply imposing a solution but enabling the team to take ownership of it.

Building relationships

A secondment allows the relationship to develop. When time is money, having a designated consultant who already knows and understands how your operation functions means that any future problems can be resolved speedily.

Sharing knowledge

And finally, training opportunities are enhanced for your team. With your own consultant, you have the capacity to develop the skillset of your employees, to build skills and knowledge which might not otherwise have been available to them.

It’s well worth considering. These observations about the wide-reaching benefits come from feedback from clients and on-the-ground discussions with employees who are appreciative of that ‘second sight’.

Call or message me to find out more about what I can offer your operation.

Working as a team and delivering value

When it comes to mining, the mindset has often been to move larger volumes of material as quickly as possible to reduce process unit rate. While material movement is obviously very important, it can drive the wrong behaviours if the wrong material is being moved to prioritise volume movement over production requirement. This is likely to destroy value for an operation by lowering overall production yield – the number one value driver. 

So, the challenge is making sure that there is a balance between planning and operational requirements. To do this, there needs to be an operational understanding of the downstream impacts of non-compliance to plan. There also needs to be a planning understanding of the operational production targets and key performance indicators (KPIs). If the operational KPI is purely volume driven, my recommendation would be to review the KPI and refer it back to the value chain of the operation. By understanding and delivering what a process is meant to achieve, the most benefit will be seen by the operation. This way, value isn’t being destroyed by aimlessly chasing down a false performance metric. 

What can the Mine Planning team do to assist Operations? 

  • Ensure plans are available in a timely manner and produced in consultation with operations. 

Operations are more likely to follow the plan when they have input into the intricacies and understand the desired result – this will also generally result in a better plan. 

  • Ensure there are short and long dump options as well as a backup plan for when things don’t go as expected

There is nothing worse than not having a plan. The chaos of trying to stay productive on night shift or over a weekend can often cause a lot of rework in the future. 

  • Make the material movement priorities clear. 

Knowing where trucks should be allocated if a loading unit becomes unavailable is a must. It also gives guidance to the maintenance department around which loading unit. Remember, the key value driver is production yield, moving the right material at the right time! 

  • Get the trucking allocation right. 
  • Understand truck matching for loading units. 
  • Forecast accurate dig rates (allowing for excavation configuration, hard dig, water, trucking allocation). 
  • Understand haulage lengths and cycle times, and allow for circuit saturation. 
  • Understand the overall trucking capacity for the loading units. 
  • Incorporate planned maintenance availability. 

If the trucking allocation works well, there is trust and faith in the planning process as this is invaluable in building the relationship and removing any divide. 

  • Listen! 

Operational people spend the majority of their day in the field driving past the same “annoying pile of dirt” which would significantly shorten up their haul but can’t be moved because there is a circuit too close. They are masters of moving material and making things productive. Take the time to listen – they are professionals and have been doing this for a long time. 

What can the Operations team do to assist Mine Planning? 

  • Follow the plan! 

Going “off plan” will often result in significant path changes and re-work for the Mine Planning team and take up time that could otherwise be used to look at the bigger problems that lie ahead. Re-pathing and re-work cause a lot of frustration for both the operational and planning teams. No one likes a last-minute change or having to go back and fix something that was previously completed. 

  • Give feedback 

People make mistakes and things do get overlooked. When something is visibly not right or the plan doesn’t align with conditions in the field, don’t sit back and wait for it to fail. Get straight onto it! 

  • Look for opportunities and issues 

Mine planners don’t know it all – they don’t get as much time in the field as they would like to. If you find something that could benefit or hinder the operation, bring it up! They might not have considered it or known about it. It’s satisfying seeing something you suggest get taken on board and executed – even if you aren’t always recognised for it! 

How to make a great impression in a job interview

Preparing for job interviews can be stressful. You have to work out what to wear, what to take with you, and how to not seem terrified once you arrive. We’ve all been there! 

Here are some tips to keep you on track as you get ready to ace that interview. 

Before the interview 

Do your research 

It’s very important that you research the organisation. 

Visit their website to: 

  • understand who they are and what they do 
  • review their history 
  • assess their products, services or client base 
  • read recent articles or press releases for insights into how they’re positioned in their industry. 

As you research, develop a list of questions that you can ask in your interview – they’ll be impressed that you’ve gone to the trouble of finding out all about their business. 

Don’t go empty-handed 

It’s always a good idea to take with you: 

  • at least two copies of your resume. Chances are your interviewer will already have seen it, but they may not have read the whole thing, and you could also be interviewing with someone else in the company. 
  • copies of any work examples, certifications or qualifications that you think might be beneficial. 

Look the part 

You don’t want to show up overdressed or underdressed. If you’re speaking to a recruiter, ask about the company’s dress code and choose your outfit accordingly. 

If there’s no one you can ask, gauge what’s appropriate from your research on the company. 

Plan the practicalities 

Map out your route to the location to arrive at least 10 or 15 minutes early, and consider a practice run to avoid being late. Taking public transport? Pre-plan an alternative route in case there are any delays. 

Pro tip: when you arrive early, use the extra time to observe workplace dynamics. 

During the interview 

Be likable 

It’s important to come across as someone they’ll like working with, so present yourself with confidence. Your energy should be focused on building a rapport with your interviewer, not just impressing them with your skills. 

Remember your body language 

Remember what you were told at school: sit up straight and don’t fidget! And keep eye contact – it shows the interviewer that you’re focused and interested in the job. 

Stay calm 

It’s easy for nerves to get the better of you but take a deep breath and try your best to take it easy. Focus on listening and answering the questions as well as possible. Interviewers don’t want you to feel nervous, and so they might even help break the ice. 

After the interview 

Know the next step 

Before you leave the interview: 

  • confirm what happens next in the recruitment process – whether there is another round of interviews, and when you can expect to hear from them again 
  • make sure you get the contact details of your interviewer if you don’t already have them. 

Reflect 

Whether you get this job or not, you should be able to learn something from this interview. What do you feel you could have done better? The goal is to identify weak spots in your interviewing skills so you can improve next time. 

Follow up 

Sending an email to your interviewer to thank them for their time will leave a good impression. Don’t wait – do it within 24 hours of your interview. This could also be a good time to ask for some feedback.