Working in mining is like playing a team sport, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers Managing Consultant Andrew Talbot.

“Everyone needs to work together and communicate effectively throughout the development cycle to achieve a good outcome,” he said.

“If someone drops the ball, then you might miss a cut, or much worse, someone might get injured.”

Mr Talbot began his career in mining during one of the worst economic slumps since the Great Depression; the Global Financial Crisis.

“The industry has come a long way in terms of progressiveness across multiple aspects such as technology, safety, diversity and social licence to operate,” he said.

“I believe mining will always be the engine room for economic growth and prosperity, we’ve almost come full circle again after the end of the super-cycle. Now we are at the inception point, on our way back up again.”

Mr Talbot studied an undergraduate degree in mining engineering at The University of Queensland and worked over the Christmas breaks at Xstrata’s Enterprise and X41 mines.

“This was a great opportunity to not only gain some practical experience in what I was learning, but also fund my next semester at university,” he said.

After graduating, Mr Talbot joined mining services company Macmahon, where he worked at numerous projects in Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania.

He then went on to work for a few years in Nigeria before coming back to Australia to complete a Master of Business (MBA).

“During my earlier years I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time working on crew,” Mr Talbot said.

“This is still one of the highlights for me, as I had the opportunity to work in almost every position and operate most underground mining equipment, with exposure to different mining methods and ore bodies.”

Mr Talbot said the catalyst for his transition from engineering to consulting was sparked by his decision to complete his MBA.

“The MBA was the next step in my development, building on my practical industry experience and broadening my understanding of the multiple dimensions of business,” he said.

“I was fortunate to be able to complete this full-time, which meant I could really take advantage of the extracurricular engagements the program had on offer.”

Whilst studying, Mr Talbot completed an internship with a Brisbane innovation firm and undertook a six-month consultancy project with a university in America.

“These opportunities really solidified my move into consulting, which offered diverse and challenging engagements, while still giving me exposure to mining – an industry I am still very passionate about,” he said.

Mr Talbot said spending as much time on the frontline was important, especially as he moved into supervisory and management roles.

“Good grades and polishing your resume are great, but I found networks were more important – get out there and meet the right people and build genuine relationships,” he said. “Prioritise and get involved in as much as you can, as the qualification and opportunities go way beyond the classroom

“Steve Blank, a pioneer in the lean start-up methodology, has a famous one liner; ‘get out of the building to truly understand your customers’. This is no different to understanding the challenges your employees are up against, as conversations at the mining face are much more authentic.

“Being visible and remaining connected to the workforce can’t be done sitting in the office. This is important in building personal relationships and rapport which, if done systematically, can also have big uplifts in productivity and safety.”

Mr Talbot’s career in mining and management consultancy has given him the opportunity to travel and work in areas across Australia and internationally.

“The time I spent working in Nigeria was probably the most challenging for me, both personally and professionally,” he said.

“In comparison to other West African nations, the domestic mining sector in Nigeria was underdeveloped and in its infancy. It was a di cult environment to operate and do business in and we were working to overcome some complicated legacy issues with the two projects.

“Looking back on this experience, a big part of what helped me overcome these challenges was  firstly the support from the great team we ended up with over there.

“Second was patience, persistence and plenty of humour. With what was affectionately known as the WAWA factor (West Africa Wins Again), it was safe bet to make that not much would go to plan.”

There is no place like home according to Mr Talbot, who said he really enjoyed being based back in Brisbane.

“There are plenty of opportunities around and it’s great to see a few of the big mining players establishing their innovation centres locally,” he said.

“It is an exciting space to be in – there is lots of talk about disruption and growth. I think the biggest hurdle for the industry is the cultural shift required for companies to begin re-thinking their traditional business models, but at the same time not losing sight of the fundamentals of mining amidst all the hype.

“I believe more emphasis needs to be placed on the workforce of the future. Obviously, there will be a shift in the skillset and capabilities required, however, the fundamentals of mining haven’t changed. Mining engineering as a profession will become even more specialised.

“It’s great to see industry bodies such as the Minerals Council of Australia and AUSIMM engaging directly with young Australians to reassess the value proposition of the industry. One of the biggest success factors in digital transformation is not technology, it’s people – this is where more time, e ort and resources need to be allocated.”

Image: Andrew Talbot