career

'I started my career in mining in my 40s. These are the questions I get asked constantly.'

BHP
Thanks to our brand partner, BHP

When Claire Scott turned 48, she itched for a lifestyle change.  

From a small country town in the South West of Western Australia, she'd found a perfect work-life balance by serving as a special needs assistant at a local primary school.

While it had been a career she'd found fulfillment in for over 14 years – it had begun to take its toll.

"It was a job I enjoyed – one that had fit perfectly with my number one job of being a mum to three children," Claire shares with Mamamia.

"But I think, ultimately, I had lost job satisfaction, and I was feeling somewhat exhausted."

Jumping into a career in mining may seem like a big leap for many, but for Claire, it just made sense.

"I believe it interesting – or perhaps fateful – how opportunities present themselves in life, and how I actually fell into a career in mining with BHP," she explains to Mamamia. 

Here are the questions Claire often gets as a career-changer, a parent and a woman in mining.

How did you change careers to mining? 

Claire gained insight from two friends before she made the jump and applied for a job with BHP

"I asked [my friend] 'what is the chance I could get a job in mining?' and their reply left me slightly gobsmacked but at the same time — very excited!" she tells Mamamia. 

"Their reply was, 'very likely'. BHP was starting a new mine site, called South Flank, and was looking for a diverse and inclusive workforce with the aim to have gender balance by 2025. So they said, 'with your work history and the stage of life you are at, yes: you are a very viable candidate!'"

That year, Claire applied for the job, and received word back quickly that she had scored an interview. 

"You know, even back then in the head office at BHP, I felt welcomed and at ease. I left that office so elated," Claire recalls.

In hindsight, it still surprised her she made it through the selection process – which included several interviews and a site visit before receiving an offer. 

"I think my interviewers were maybe in two minds, or more so concerned that I was actually intent on leaving a permanent full-time position in a country school to pursue some mad desire to go into mining!" she says.

What's the work culture actually like?

There's a preconception many of us have when we think about a job in mining. 

While there's no secret it can be physically demanding — Claire explains the reality of being a FIFO worker was beyond her imagination. 

"I said to my husband, 'I reckon I could do FIFO, not driving trucks, but something,' and if that doesn't show how little I knew about mining at the time — then I don't know what does!" she tells Mamamia.

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"I suppose, if you haven't seen an iron ore plant, you wouldn’t really know what the job looks like."

Claire admits that walking onto site for the first time and seeing the number of women she'd be working with, left her pleasantly surprised. 

"I got up there and thought they’re going to judge me [because of my size, age and lack of experience], but all I did was get in and get my job done. I've been so welcomed and supported by my crew at both sites I've worked on."

As a Fixed Plant Technician, Claire says her role is to perform inspections on the ore processing plant, attend to faults, and help keep the machinery running. 

Claire works as a Fixed Plant Technician at an Iron Ore Plant for BHP. image: Supplied.

Her team's goal, at all times, is to make sure the processing plant ultimately operates safely, productively and "without interruption." For context, the processing plant crushes and grades iron ore into two different sized products, lump and fines, sends it to stockpiles before being reclaimed for loading onto trains bound for the Pilbara coast for export.

"Safety is our number one. It's the reason we all help each other. On site, it's about support and kindness and making sure everyone is in a good safe space," she shares.

"BHP wants us to go home safe each and every day."

The work culture is one aspect of the job Claire says makes her love the job so much. 

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"I have so many girlfriends there and so many good people around me. I freaking love my job."

"The women here... We all get our jobs done." Image: Supplied.

What is it really like being a woman in mining? Isn't it quite a "blokey" environment? 

Claire, like many of her female colleagues, says she's not often a fan of this question. 

"My site is so strong female-wise, and a lot of people's perceptions of mining is that it's rough, it's tough and it's blokey," she explains, adding that her former perception of what it's like to work in mining, is not at all the reality. 

“So to answer, I don’t actually know the answer to that question. They're the questions we want to move away from. It shouldn’t be empowering.

"I do my job, all the girls I work with, we all work hard. We don’t let the team down, I’ll put it that way."

Claire's own perception of the job had her initially believe that working on a mining site would be 'blokey' — but the reality made her laugh.

"When I first went to site, I didn't take any perfume or nice smelling creams," she says. "I was a miner, so none of this girly stuff!"

But while coming back to camp after a hard day's work, she walked past a man smelling of aftershave, and admitted she "had a laugh to herself".

"I realised [that] it is okay to smell nice and look presentable at a mine site! And by the next swing, Chanel came up north with me!" she laughs. 

"I think the lack of experience shapes one's perception of what it's like to be a mine site worker. We think of it as tough, dirty and blokey," Claire admits.

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"But I believe as time goes on and as the ratio of women in the mining workforce increases the whole idea of 'women in mining' is becoming normalised."

Claire (left) on site. Image: Supplied.

How does your family dynamic change when you became a FIFO mum?

Initially, Claire says she felt guilty about being away from home – but one conversation with another woman from the mining industry eased her worries. 

"I will never forget that conversation I had during my inductions in Perth. I was chatting with this lady at morning tea, she had a work history in mining that was vast and amazing," she says. 

"I was sharing my guilt of going FIFO and leaving my husband and son at home to fend for themselves. She turned to me and asked: 'how old are these people you are talking about?' 

"I sheepishly replied, '51 and 17-and-a-half'. She laughed at me and assured me they were going to be alright."

"It was conversations like this that helped remind me everything was going to be okay, maybe a challenge at the beginning, but okay," Claire goes on to say.

While the prospect of going into mining was exciting, Claire tells Mamamia there was a lot to consider. 

"[I felt] the pressure as a mother, to be there on a day-to-day basis. And while [that pressure] had significantly reduced, as my two daughters were in Perth studying, I had not 'fulfilled' my role of being a parent to my son," she explains. 

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Claire's youngest child was in the midst of completing his final year of high school, and she also felt the weight of having to leave primary parenting responsibilities in her husband's hands.

The hardest part, Claire explains, was leaving the job she loved most — being a mum. 

"There wasn't as much pressure for me to be there on a daily basis as all my children were quite independent, but leaving my husband and son at home was a big change," she says. 

"I had dedicated my life to my family and running the household, so to step away was a big deal indeed."

Despite the concerns, she recalls they pulled through and made plans for all of their futures, as a family. 

"We had many discussions [on what] the year ahead would look like and how we would face and overcome any obstacles," she explains. 

"But, ultimately, I knew we would be fine. And that we would pull through as a family, and I knew it [at] the moment where his dad, sister and I were all helping my son with his English assignments — which he had left to the last moment!"

What do you love about the job? What is it really like? 

Claire explains the challenge of the job is what she loves most. 

"I still remember my first visit to site. Everything was so foreign. Nothing was familiar. I was so overwhelmed, the screen house and crushing buildings were so tall and I was thinking 'oh s**t I’m scared of heights, I can’t work at the top of them!' 

"Then the mechanical supervisor was pointing at a machine and telling me I’d be operating it one day (a reclaimer) and I’m thinking to myself 'how' and 'what’s that called again?' And 'how in the hell am I going to operate that!' 

"Thank goodness I don’t operate that reclaimer; instead I operate the world’s largest iron ore reclaimer!"

In Claire's role now, she is able to operate a skid steer, front-end loader, tele handler, elevated work platform, excavator, tilt tray and tip truck. 

"By challenging yourself in one part of your life you give yourself confidence in other parts," she shares.

Aside from the physical parts of mining that Claire enjoys, she says the flexible roster she works now is perfect for families. 

"I started off on a 2-and-1 roster [two weeks at work, one week off]. We asked BHP for eight days on, six off and seven nights on, seven off... and they listened. It was huge of them to listen to us," she said.

"They’ve listened to their people. That’s really, really big because it takes time out for family. It’s such a friendlier roster to families."

Claire on site. Image: Supplied.

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Upon reflection, Claire says one of the best parts of mining for her is the camaraderie. 

"I am a people person and I enjoy the people I work with," she says. "I've met some truly amazing people. People I know I can turn to for support. Throughout my journey, people have always being friendly and accommodating and gone out of their way to teach me and keep me safe at work."

Would you actually recommend a career in mining?

Before jumping the gun, Claire advises others to "research, think and talk about it."

"There's no secret to being successful in mining," she says. "It is ultimately no different to any other job."

Of course the hours are long and the conditions are hot and dusty, but in Claire's words: "this should come as no surprise!"

Overall though, taking the leap to go into mining doesn't have to be big — especially if you are a woman thinking about joining.

"Companies are making progress towards a more gender balanced work forces, and BHP's aim for gender balance by 2025 is happening," Claire shares with Mamamia.

"Connect with women in mining support groups and networks, read the success stories, be inspired to join the industry.

"There are many exciting career opportunities that the industry offers!"

Thinking about your next career move? The opportunities at BHP are endless, and there might just be one for you. If you're interested in a career in mining, find out more here.

BHP
Thinking about your next career move? Do you want to find that something that you look forward to doing, every day? Where you’re recognised and rewarded for your effort? Then think big. Because while the world relies on the resources we find, we rely on people like you to help us build a better world. The opportunities at BHP are endless, and there might just be one for you. Why not you? The future is here. It’s happening now. Come be a part of it. Find out more at www.bhp.com/careers