Abby Mondello admits the first time she contemplated getting behind the wheel of a giant Caterpillar 789, she had no idea whether she’d be up to the task.
But as a recent graduate of an all-female cohort of 19 entry level haul truck operators at Mineral Resources, Mondello now says the 789 gives her a feeling of empowerment.
“The most exciting and interesting part of my job, if I’m being completely honest, is being the operator of one of the largest machines on site,” Mondello said.
“The best things is when you realise that you can do it, and the opportunities that exist because of it.
“I love how much knowledge and understanding other operators have of their machines, and the way this inspires those of us coming through the ranks to do the same.”
Mondello, who grew up in Newman and Kalgoorlie, has always had a familiarity with the mining and resources sector.
But fellow program graduate Janelle Starkey only recently turned her thoughts to a potential career in mining as a result of economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to becoming a dump truck operator, she was studying philosophy, history and Indigenous studies full-time at university and doing landscaping work in her spare time.
Starkey says coming through training with a group of fellow females had made moving into her new career and mine site environment far easier.
“The initial training in Perth gave us the opportunity to connect with other trainees who were mobilising to our site before we flew out,” Starkey said.
“A total of six trainees were mobilised to my site, two on each of the three crews. Going through the process together has made the transition to site so much easier – knowing that you are not the only one going through a new experience helps a lot.
“Everyone on site has been genuinely amazing and so forthcoming with showing their support. All of my crew members have done a phenomenal job in training me and allowing me to feel like part of the team from the beginning.”
I love how much knowledge and understanding other operators have of their machines, and the way this inspires those of us coming through the ranks to do the same.
Mineral Resources CEO – Commodities, Paul Brown, said an earlier intake of entry level haul truck operators in March had been 50 per cent female.
The success of those women, he said, paved the way for a standalone program that aligns with the Mineral Resources leadership team’s commitment to not only create opportunities for more females but present them with options around long-term careers.
“A key focus for us at Mineral Resources is how we can bring people from different backgrounds and different industries into our business so that we are creating a diverse and inclusive workforce,” Brown said.
“The performance of the female graduates from this program and the impact it has had on our business is proof that a more diverse workforce directly impacts our ability to innovate and evolve.
“To break the typical stereotype of the industry to attract a wide range of people, it is important to look at how to do things differently.
“It’s never easy to start in any industry without experience but our goal was to give people who showed ambition and the desire to be part of a team, the chance to join us.”
Brown hopes driving dump trucks is only the start of the mining adventure for the women who enter the program.
Mineral Resources operates a range of mine sites across WA, including Koolyanobbing and Iron Valley (iron ore) and Mt Marion (lithium).
“Our hope from the outset has been to create an opportunity for these female graduates to be a part of shaping the future of the mining industry – to provide them the platform from which they can launch their career and reach their full potential, through whatever path they may discover along the way,” he said.
“The mining industry has so many different career paths and it’s about helping create those.
“The key for us has been to provide a variety of entry pathways that speak to a breadth of people, first-class training and support that can evolve their skill set, and the opportunity to move across the business as they gain a greater understanding of where their passions are.”
Starkey can certainly see a potential pathway to bigger things.
“Based on the site that I am currently on, there is a strong representation of female employees at the operator level,” she said.
“Management and white-collar roles still seem to be largely male-dominated, but I believe that would be a direct result of the low number of female representation in the past.
“However, I think that now the opportunity is there for women to move within the industry and that we will see a higher number of women in supervisory and management roles going forward when you consider the incredible initiatives like this that are currently available.”
Mondello, who was previously an assistant in nursing at an aged care company, says her opportunity with Mineral Resources was simply too good to pass up.
She has some simple advice for other women giving consideration to a move into mining.
“Go for it – The things you learn, the fun you’ll have, and the relationships you forge are amazing,” she said.
“You won’t regret it!”