Normally I take the positive view of issues. A once-upon-time lady-friend dumped me because, as she said: “You are disgustingly optimistic and always look on the bright side of bad things.” I suppose I was happy to see the end of her, as she was always gloomy, even when things were going well. We concluded that we had different genetics and perspectives on life, and so we parted. She could dance beautifully; there was some loss.
So contra naturam let me in this posting look at the sad, bad side of mining employment.
I am prompted to do this by a comment by Sarah Mitchell of Miningoilgas Jobs. She comments as follows on a recent posting on this blog—see the posting immediately below this one.
One thing we find, however, is jobseekers who fail to understand that to command big wages and benefits, they must prepare to be successful. Recent stories in the Wall Street Journal only encourage the belief anyone can walk onto a mine site – especially in Australia – and expect to earn $200,000 with no skills. What’s your opinion about this and what advice would you give to someone who wants to work in mining but doesn’t have skills?
I find this description of her company on the web:
Mining Oil and Gas Jobs is your biggest source of information about employment, training and development in the Resources sector in Australia. If you want work in Mining, Oil and Gas or Alternative Energy, you’re at the right place.
Thus I approach this issue with some trepidation. What advice would I give someone who wants to work in mining but does not have the skills?
Let me first quote a lady whom I respect greatly. She is the human resources manager for a big international mining consulting company. She once said to me: “The hardest part of the job is when we realize that a recent employee is no good. We realize they will not make it. We realize they are not consultants and the mining industry won’t want them or their skills.”
“What do you do then,” I asked.
“We take them aside and tell them that they are not cut out to be consultants in the mould of our company, and it would be best for them, best for us, and best for the mining industry, if we parted,” was her reply.
“You fire them?” I asked.
“Not really,” she replied. “You fire somebody if they are dishonest, but you part if they are not in the mould of your company.”
I am not sure of the subtle difference. But at least she does it with honor and honesty. And that is perhaps the essence of the issue: if a person has not the skills to do the job, it is better for them, the employer, and the industry that all part as soon as possible.
I know that as yet I have not tackled the issue raised by Sarah Mitchell, namely what advice do I give someone who wants to work in mining, but does not have the skills.
With my law degree in mind, I instinctively approach this issue as a lawyer. I plead that I would approach the issue on the basis of the situation. Say somebody I knew and liked approached me and asked if they could succeed in mining and I knew they would not. It would be dishonest to encourage them with false hopes and false optimism. I would do what I have often done after an interview with a patently unsuitable candidate: tell them that the mining industry is not for them. It is hard, demanding, and ruthless. They do not have the skills, the fortitude, or the attitude needed to go to a remote site and work hard in hard conditions.
I would tell them that they are better suited for other things. Maybe they should recognize they write well and should become a journalist or continue as an academic. Maybe they should see that they would be happier behind the counter of a local music or book store helping people choose CDs and books to their taste. Maybe they should become a nurse or dental aide and help people in pain and distress. They would get more personal satisfaction that way.
Sarah Mitchell and her site find jobs for people in the mining industry. They have an interest in getting people into mining. But they also have an obligation to avoid staffing disasters, namely putting people in jobs in mining where they will be unhappy and fail. Should they be hard and forward in telling their potential clients that some of them are just not cut-out to work in mining?
At the least I would expect them to make sure that every job-posting was brutal in setting out the demands of the job: education, experience, skills, job demands, criteria for success, and so one. That is the first warning to the unqualified yet over-optimistic. If they cannot pass muster by the criteria set out in the job description, they should not apply, or if they do, they should rapidly be screened out on the basis of lack of eduction, experience, skills, and ability.
Sarah points out that recent new-reports paint a picture of mining where everybody can make $200,000 a year and this make the unsuitable think they too can earn that good income just by showing up at a mine.
I recognize that no sites that I know of tell the full story. Even I on this blog am guilty of playing up the $200,000 salary. Afterall it is such easy journalism and blogging. So let me set the record straight.
Most people do not make $200,000 a year on mines. Most earn probably $30,000 to $70,000 and they work damn hard to earn that amount. Most folk on mines have worked their way up the hard way. They have studied hard; they have learnt in the trenches from the skilled; they have taken the necessary courses; they have cultivated friends and colleagues who help them; they have moved from familiar places to foreign places; they have lived in hard camps eating bland food day in and day out.
Most mining folk have a certain love of distance and solitary places. They are willing to live in cold camps or hot deserts in strange places. They are ready to leave family and friends and get up day after day at dawn to descend a dark hole to move rock to make money. They are generally loners. They are generally able to be happy within themselves and not need the pub each day to assuage the pain of being human.
I do not want to over-emphasize this point, but let us face it, to be a miner at a remote and lonely mine, you need to be partly mad. You need to eschew immediate and continuous human company. It is not the same as being a shop assistant or nurse. You need to be able to draw on your own inner self for strength and succour.
I once rode in a huge truck with a lovely lady of fifty. She and I had flirted in the coffee-room and she invited me to drive with her in the huge truck she drove around the mine. We broke all rules as I climbed in beside her. As we bumped along the unpaved roads and as she skillfully negotiated the potholes, she confessed to me that she is the divorced grandmother of six. I bragged that I am the divorced grandfather of eight. We had a common interest and we chatted of divorce and grandkids as we bumped along.
A strange sight: two lonely individuals close beside each other in a vast white landscape of snow and coke, black and cold. What brought us here together? She confessed that she drove a mine truck because it was easy, paid a lot, and gave her many quiet hours alone to dream and watch the sky, rain, snow, and summer heat.
She confessed she liked the money. It gave her a bigger income than her kids with their six kids, her grandkids. The money bought her respect from the kids and grandkids. A respect she would never have had from cooking and babysitting.
“Do you not miss them on these long periods away?” I asked. I knew the answer I would give.
“I love them all,” she answered. “I love being with them. I love having money to spoil them. But it is nice to get away from the quibbles, the quarrels, and the quirks. I am happy to be free of the shouting, the arguments, the passions, and the inordinate demands of immediate family. I love these lonely roads and the silence of the vast landscape. I am comforted by the repetition and regularity of the route, the daily ordinary, and the personal privacy of the nights alone.”
The points she made are key to my answer: if you find her crazy, do not go mining. If you do not have the skills, attitude, and aptitude she has, do not go mining. It matters not whether you are going mining as a truck driver, a process plant manager, the mine manager, or the canteen cook. I emphasize here that I know and respect women in mining working in all these roles. And I know and respect many men working in these roles. It is not an issue of gender; it is all an issue of personality and preference.
In closing, I say that I know this is a poor answer. But it is my honest perspective. If you are thinking about mining and do not fit any of the categories I have touched on, then email me and tell me about your skills and I will attempt to give you a private answer to this very difficult question.