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  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

Iain Riek

Iain Riek studied a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Mechanical), First Class at CQU; Rockhampton and is now a Graduate Engineer Mechanical / Mining at South32.

What's your job about?

South32 is a globally diversified mining company. We produce bauxite, alumina, aluminium, metallurgical coal, manganese, nickel, copper, silver, lead and zinc in Australia, Southern Africa and South America.

As a graduate at South32, I get to work in various areas, developing skills needed to be an effective member of the team and learn where my skillset can most effectively be utilised at the end of the program. Currently, I am a graduate engineer in the capital works team at GEMCO in the Northern Territory, mainly focusing on mobile fleet but assisting in a number of diverse projects from construction to electrical.

My role involves sourcing and delivering all kinds of mobile equipment to meet operational requirements, from portable generators and light vehicles (LVs) to elevated work platforms (EWPs), earthmoving equipment and cranes all the way up to 777 haul trucks and 260T excavators. I also work on the logistics of getting these to a remote offshore island in the Northern Territory and I have spent time in the mobile workshop and in the reliability team.

Before GEMCO I was a graduate on the Eagle Downs project where I was involved in a broad range of tasks including creating equipment tender documents, writing management plans, and creating long term mine plan models. I also worked onsite as part of the care and maintenance team and the exploration team.

What's your background?

I grew up in Brisbane and now live there with my young family, but I have lived in a few places over the years including Warwick and Rockhampton in Queensland, Sydney and a short stint in a little town called Pirongia in the Waikato region of New Zealand.

I graduated school and spent a week at uni before dropping out and decided I was going to go and play with race-cars, completing trade apprenticeships as both a mechanic and a maintenance fitter and gained a diploma in motorsport in the process. But over the years I still felt the desire to go back and study engineering.

In 2015 I bit the bullet, moved to Rockhampton and enrolled in a bachelor of engineering. Over the course of my degree, I spend almost a year working as an undergrad in the Bowen Basin in Queensland mining coal and at a large quarry in the central North Island of New Zealand.

When I graduated in 2019, I was offered a graduate mining engineer role with Eagle Downs Metallurgical Coal, working on the feasibility study for an underground metallurgical coal project that South32 had recently become involved in. It was an amazing experience to come in at the initial phase of the project with the potential to move through the study, construction and operations phases. When that project didn’t proceed, I was offered a grad opportunity at South32’s GEMCO operation in 2021 as a graduate mechanical engineer.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

Yes. The two roles I have had with South32 as part of the graduate program have been mining project management related, which I didn’t study at uni. While it’s beneficial to have some background in a role before you start, South32 has been great in allowing me to learn on the job in areas of the industry that I didn’t think of in my first years of uni when deciding what I wanted to major in.

Often having different life and work experiences can be a benefit and help you stand out when trying to initially snag a role. Being adaptable, able to problem solve, effectively communicate, being honest with your abilities and having a good level of ‘smarts’ are the main ingredients to success in the mining industry.

What's the coolest thing about your job?

There is always a new challenge, whether technical, practical or operational. I most enjoy the problem-solving aspects of my job. At GEMCO, our location makes it a challenge just to get it to the site!

In the capital projects space where I am currently, I get to work with many different stakeholders from across GEMCO, which is great for networking and getting an insight into what different teams do. I have had the opportunity to learn about not only project management but about all the other departments and what their needs are and how they differ from each other; for example, mobile maintenance, mine planning and operations all might have an interest in a new machine, but their needs and priorities are often vastly different to each other.

What are the limitations of your job?

There are a few things, firstly, this is a FIFO role, and FIFO life takes some getting used to, both as a young engineer just starting out and when you get a bit older and have a family.

The remoteness here at GEMCO can be a bit of a shock to the system as well. The only real way to get here is a flight from Darwin or Cairns, there are very few of the conveniences most people are used to in cities or towns, phone/internet signals can range between average and non-existent during the summer months there is always the risk of cyclones.

On the flip side, these limitations teach you to be self-sufficient, can be an adventure, the job pays well, and you get the positive lifestyle aspects of working FIFO.

3 pieces of advice for yourself when you were a student...

  • It's ok to not know exactly what you want to do after uni. That’s what grad programs are for!
  • Diversify your knowledge and interests – not only is it interesting to try new things, but it can give you a competitive advantage and a unique perspective.
  • Once you finish uni no one really cares what your GPA is, so do your best, enjoy uni and life while you can – there is plenty of time to stress once you reach the workforce, but don’t forget, a good workplace will generally not be high stress.