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Xstrata digs deep for Queensland education

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Excellence in training saw Xstrata Mount Isa Mines win the Australian Mining Prospect Award for Best Metalliferous Mine of the Year sponsored by Atlas Copco .

Xstrata Copper’s North Queensland division is headquartered in Mount Isa and comprises the Mount Isa Mines copper mining and processing operations, Ernest Henry Mining and the Townsville copper refinery and port operations.

The copper produced in North Queensland helps contribute to Xstrata’s global annual managed production of over one million tonnes of copper per year. The company is headquartered in Brisbane, with regional officers in Chile, Peru, Argentina and Canada.

Dave McLoughlin, human resources and community manager, heads up a team of 25 human resources and training employees which looks after the 3,500 employees in the North Queensland copper division.

The training and vocational program being run by McLoughlin department was set up in 2003, after Xstrata acquired the assets of MIM Holdings.

“Essentially there was no skills acquisition program in place,” says McLoughlin.

“We realised we needed an integrated skills development program.”

The program Xstrata put in place was designed to ensure close partnership with key stakeholders including schools, government and training providers.

Xstrata’s investment in the program included building the team of 25 people, spending $1.5 million spent on a centre for vocational training, and investing in two custom built, multimedia lecture theatres for two local high schools in Mount Isa.

The training encompasses school-based initiatives, apprenticeships and a graduate program.

“We have an extensive vacation program,” says McLoughlin.

“On top of that we run a project in conjunction with the State Department of Education and Training and the Queensland Mineral and Energy Academy.”

Xstrata works closely with teachers and careers advisers from local schools. It targets students from Year 7 and upward. Year 10, 11 and 12 students can spend some of their school time onsite at Xstrata which goes towards their school certificates.

“We’ll have 80 kids a year here over the Christmas holiday period,” says McLoughlin.

Xstrata targets vocational training in three ways, through apprenticeships for school students, who typically spend three days at school, one day at TAFE, and one day onsite at Xstrata per week. It also offers traditional workplace apprenticeships, as well as offering adult apprenticeships to people within the business.

“We look for people we currently employ, for example maybe an operator who wishes to retrain for a vocation role,” says McLoughlin.

Xstrata’s investment in vocational training encompasses both traditional apprenticeships as well as support for tertiary institutions and courses. “We spend a lot of time developing future tradespeople and mining professionals,” says McLoughlin.

Its investment of $1.5 million to establish a Chair of Metallurgical Engineering at the University of Queensland aimed to help stem the decline in enrolments in metallurgy which had been observed over the past 10 years, he says.

Such support was crucial to maintain the necessary supply of mining engineers, mechanical and electrical engineers, metallurgists and geologists.

Investment and involvement with the University of Queensland connected industry with education, bringing a higher quality of educational experience to the students, he says.

“This year we had the entire graduating class of 2006 complete a unit of their study in the business.”

In addition to Xstrata’s investment in schools and other education providers, McLoughlin says the company also spends around $11 million a year in internal staff training. This training includes safety and competency-based training, as well as leadership development.

While it might take five to ten years before Xstrata’s investment in schools begins to translate into employees on its books, McLoughlin says Xstrata is already reaping the benefits of its investment in human resources and training.

“We’re in one of the industries where 30% turnover is average. Ours is less than half of that.”

Xstrata’s policy of investing in training and promoting internally was also seeing results, he said.

“We’re having to rely less and less on the external market – we’re able to fill roles internally because we have the right training and succession plans.”

McLoughlin is keen to point out that Xstrata’s educational policies are still a work in progress – “We don’t claim to be perfect.”

But he’s proud that the human resources and training teams have been able to build their training modules in-house.

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