Driver�s ed

Selecting people with the right mindset can help build a better skilled workforce and reduce turnover. By Noel Dyson
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Noel Dyson

Every mine manager wants its haul truck drivers to operate more efficiently and safely. After all, a mine’s haulage system is only as fast as its slowest driver. Some of these mine managers will not mind if these haul truck drivers also move up the chain through to excavator operators and even up to supervisory levels.

The secret to meeting these needs, says QFS Australia managing director Brett Quinn, is to select people who have the right mindset for mining and give them the right training before they even set foot onsite.

QFS specialises in recruiting skilled mobile plant operators for mines; training newcomers to the industry through its Work Ready and other programs; and consulting with mines to help them boost mobile plant productivity. The company is targeting the mine contractor market in Western Australia.

The company’s training division is a registered training organisation, which means it is nationally accredited.

While the business’ focus is on WA, its Work Ready program has attracted applicants from around Australia. These people have been happy to pay for the airfare just to fly over for the information sessions, which are not free, that QFS runs for people interested in the Work Ready course.

QFS’ approach has been recognised with awards from the WA Business Enterprise Centre network and the WA Mining Club.

QFS’ Work Ready program trains carefully selected candidates and, using the recruitment side of the business, places them in jobs.

The emphasis, Quinn insists, is on people who can fit in with the mining culture.

He said one of the problems he had noticed through his years in the industry – Quinn started as a haul truck operator and finished up as a superintendent at Argyle Diamond Mine – was that people usually landed a job on a minesite by knowing people working there.

“They then get trained by an operator, and pick up that operator’s good points, plus any bad driving habits he may have,” he said.

Once people have been selected for the Work Ready program – the recruitment process is a comprehensive one – their skills are developed to a level where they have a good understanding of what is required in mining and then they are placed in a job. QFS also gives its graduates on-the-job training and mentoring, providing the company taking them takes at least two graduates.

“We’re looking for people that have the motivation, the enthusiasm and the drive to be in the industry and the commitment to go through hard yards to be successful,” Quinn said. “Then we need to go to the deeper level of understanding whether they have the necessary abilities.”

So far that is paying off. Quinn said: “Ninety-two percent of the people we’ve put into the industry from our Work Ready program have become successful mining industry operators.”

The development program includes things such as basic mining terminology and is designed to give the candidate an understanding of health, safety, environmental and operational aspects relating to them as an employee in a mining lifestyle. It is not designed to replace onsite training, nor is it an induction process for any mine. It does, however, provide a grounding in mining that stands the candidate in good stead when they get onsite.

Quinn said it takes two to five days of onsite training to get a haul truck operator up to a work-ready level.

Besides providing well-grounded candidates to mines and getting them job ready once they get there, QFS also guarantees that its Work Ready graduates will stay with that mine for at least one year. If they don’t, QFS will replace them free of charge.

Quinn said some of the training was carried out on simulators.

“At the moment we do a lot more training onsite, given the lack of simulators,” Quinn said.

The company is in the throes of finding an alternative simulator, be it one from Immersive, 5DT or one of the many PC-based offerings that are starting to emerge. It expects to have its own simulator soon.

Quinn stressed the simulators were not to replace practical onsite training. However, he said the simulators’ role could be broadened to provide basic skills assessment for the recruitment business.

At the moment the company relies on holding skills verification interviews, which fill the bill. “To select the best mobile plant operator it will come down to practical skills testing, which simulators are ideal for,” Quinn said.

While QFS’ main business is in developing haul truck operators, there are hopes that the candidates it supplies into industry will be able to progress up the operational ranks to supervisory roles. Given the ageing workforce this could be an important consideration.

“We want to pick mobile plant operators who can go on to be supervisors,” Quinn said. “The skills shortage we have at the moment is at the bottom end and at the dozer and excavator operator end. But soon we will start to see a skills shortage at the supervisor level.”

QFS is also working on a variation of its Work Ready program targeting Indigenous workers, something Quinn is particularly passionate about.

In his experience it was not the Indigenous workers’ aptitude for mining that was a problem, it was understanding the differences between white and Aboriginal cultures.

The consulting arm is a culmination of QFS’ recruitment and development arms. QFS experts look over a mine’s needs and help them fill any operator shortfalls the company may have, either through its recruitment arm or with graduates from its Work Ready program. They also look to help the existing operators work better.

Quinn said getting an operator to cut 30 seconds off a haul run by improving his or her skills could have big benefits. “It could result in several more loads a shift,” he said.

With commodity prices running as hot as they are, a 200-tonne load of ore can be valued in the thousands of dollars.