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Veterans dig deep to lead minesite revolution

veterans on mines
Eight of the Veterans now employed at FMG’s Cloudbreak mine in the Pilbara. Photo: Supplied

THERE’S a revolution taking place on mine sites throughout the Pilbara, as iron ore major Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) embraces the exceptional skillset of our former military tradies – having hired 82 Veterans in the past 12 months. The Listening Post talks to the men driving this revolution, themselves ex-Defence – and gets the inside word on how you, or a Veteran you know, can work toward getting a start.

By MAXINE BROWN

I’VE never met Army Afghanistan Veteran Steve Comins, 29, before. But as he chats down the phone from FMG’s Cloudbreak Mine in his rapid-fire style, his enthusiasm and passion for the subject at hand are highly infectious. We’re discussing ex-Defence personnel being upskilled for trade jobs at FMG mines.

And there are few better qualified to make informed comment on this subject, since Steve was the first Veteran recruited into FMG’s innovative Rapid Trades Upskilling program – the initiative of FMG’s Manager of Training Chris  Mayfield, who is also an RSLWA Board Director and a Veteran.

Now based at the Cloudbreak site on an 8:6 roster, Steve is now Fortescue’s Trades Training Maintenance Coordinator. What this means, among his many substantial work responsibilities, is that he has a front-row seat to enable, mentor and empower other Veterans to follow his footsteps into leadership roles within the organisation.

Since the program’s launch last year, over 82 RAEME Veterans have been hired. Steve has been inspired to see so many Veterans, some who were medically discharged, gaining employment primarily within FMG’s Heavy Mobile Equipment Workshops. It’s transformed their lives and careers, while providing financial security for themselves and their loved ones.

And the benefits for FMG have been tangible, with Steve noticing a positive cultural shift driven by the Veterans’ strong work ethic, positivity, discipline and physical fitness. It’s resulted in improved maintenance efficiency and mobile equipment downtime. This is especially so at Christmas Creek, where 40 Veterans are employed.

Steve, a father of two toddlers, has some golden employment advice for those looking to transition out of the Defence Force, or for existing Veterans looking for work. It’s a strategy that saw him land a job as a Heath Safety and Environmental Advisor within a North Queensland mine just five days after discharge.

He said: “Be proactive, be in control of your own discharge, take charge of your transition with a plan well before it takes place. For me, it was taking charge and ensuring I understood how the system works, both military and DVA, and not just relying on my ADF rehabilitation case worker due to their advice being limited to entitlements within Defence.’’

Instead, Steve utilised the resources available to him through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ vocational rehabilitation scheme and Defence Transitions to work in his favour. By undertaking both schemes, he was able to focus on exploring all opportunities and benefits that were available during and after his discharge.

Resources he suggests to take advantage, and ask questions of, are: Career Transition Assistance Scheme (CTAS); Career Transition Training (CTT); Job Search Preparation Workshop (JSPW); Curriculum Vitae Coaching (CVC); Career Transition and Management Coaching (CTMC); Meaningful Engagement; Stepping out Program (VVCS/Open Arms); and Transition Seminar.

Steve says the reason he was able to land a job so quickly after transitioning was because he used course funds purely to improve employment opportunities. For example, when undertaking Meaningful Engagement he used the money to fund $3400 in first-aid courses, rather than exploring options other Veterans were undertaking, such as singing/music/ woodwork lessons and courses.

His next tip? Know where you want to go and what career you want. Steve knew he wanted to move into the resource sector, so he worked hard and pushed himself to fill any gaps to get himself there. He also advised not to put too much pressure on yourself to make things happen overnight. As he said, if you put your strategy in place and consistently chip away at it, “things will happen”.

And finally, Steve says that once you are fully prepped and ready to go, to contact Ironside Recruitment – FMG’s Veterans’ Employment Program partner (director Glen Ferrarotto is also a Veteran) – and a specialist in resources and energy industry recruitment.

Understandably, Steve is a huge fan of the man who made all this happen, the program’s brains and instigator Chris Mayfield.

“I think his individual contribution to Veterans themselves has been hugely successful,’’ said Steve. “His efforts in getting this program up and running have been totally selfess.”

In fact, Steve was so inspired by his mentor’s determination to see ex-personnel fill the skills shortfalls within the company that he nominated him for this year’s Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Awards in March. And he won!

Chris, who served in the Australian Army for 25 years, both here and overseas, tends to avoid the limelight, preferring his actions and results speak for themselves. In fact, it was his drive for results and strategic agility in getting this program over the line that set him apart from other nominees for the award.

In asking Chris what his most rewarding moment was in seeing Veterans at work on FMG sites, he said, simply: ”Providing life-changing opportunities for our Veterans in recognising our diverse skill sets.”

And with FMG committing $10 million a year to investing in Veteran employment, I expect there will be plenty more to come.

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