Q&A with Kylie Jackson, Mobile Equipment Maintenance Supervisor in Paraburdoo

  • By AusIMM WIMnet

Kylie Jackson talks about her start in the resources industry as an electrical apprentice at NSW’s Delta Power Station and her rise to Mobile Equipment Maintenance Supervisor in Paraburdoo, WA. Once the owner of a small side business, Kylie discusses tough choices she had to make to get the work/life balance right for her.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself, from growing up until now?

My parents and I did a lot of moving while I was young; I am an only child. I was born Victoria and lived in Epping until I was six. During this time, I spent a lot of my weekends with my grandparents (Mum’s side) on their farm while my parents were working. A lot of fond memories there! We then moved to the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. We lived with my grandparents (Dad’s side) for a year or so until our house was built nearby. I completed primary and high school on the Sunshine Coast. I had a great group of friends during school, I was generally the quieter one of the bunch and was not involved in many sports, only tennis. I joined Scouts when I was 12, which was a great environment to build friendships and advance my social skills as well as push boundaries through adventure and mischief.

When I was 16 and had finished high school I moved out to Brisbane for just over a year where I began a Bachelor of Science that would be a bridge into a Pharmacy degree. This was such a big struggle. I was definitely sick of school by the time I had left high school. I tried to work two jobs while studying to keep on top of my money struggles. Eventually I was burnt out and I had a growing uncertainty about my chosen career path, which led me to abandon university and Brisbane until I gained some clarity on what I wanted to do with my life. I was back home for about a week before I had signed up to be a vacuum sales person as an interim income stream. This new role took me straight up to Moranbah, Queensland where the company planned to sell lots of vacuums to the ‘rich miners’. I only ever tried my sales pitch on one person. He saw straight away that I was a terrible salesperson and ended up offering me a job up in Moranbah, which I accepted. Long story short, that one customer is now my husband and we have been together for 12 years.

We lived together in Moranbah for approximately a year where I was working for a coal sampling company and would collect samples at numerous mines, come back to the lab, run tests and return the results to the sites. We moved to Lake Macquarie, NSW after that for work. This is where I decided I wanted to do a trade and ended up getting an electrical apprenticeship at Delta Electricity Power Stations. I was proud of my apprenticeship years, as I was awarded apprentice of the year as well as finalists in other different awards. I was also selected as one of 20 apprentices and trainees Australia-wide to participate in the Today’s Skills, Tomorrow’s Leaders program, which is a week-long self-development program held at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra. It was packed with inspirational speakers, leadership and team building programs, as well as a private morning tea with the then Governor General Quentin Bryce at Government House.

Post apprenticeship, I worked at Fairfax Printers as an Electrician for a year before accepting an offer  in the resources sector as a plant maintenance electrician. It was quite a culture shock initially and  different to the power stations. At power stations, the workforce was generally very accepting of each other; however, there seemed to be a divide between the workforce and management. At the mine there didn’t seem to be the same camaraderie among the workforce. Although, the divide between the workers and management was not as evident. At times I felt like I was in a season of Survivor, quickly learning who was trustworthy and reliable and who was only in it for themselves. This was great for my development! I had to learn to put up barriers for people so I could get on with my job, which I had never had to do before. This was quite uncomfortable as my general outlook on life was that most people have good intentions. This was a tough three years although I would not change it as I learnt a lot and I did make some amazing friends there too.

I left the plant to take on an assistant supervisor’s role in the mobile workshop at the mine. This was a whole different set of challenges. The main challenge I found, after learning to avoid confrontation with colleagues, was that I now had to confront them head on! The one-on-one conversations about behaviour with my team were the hardest but eventually got easier. Finally, I have recently accepted a job at Paraburdoo, WA at Rio Tinto Iron Ore as a Mobile Equipment Maintenance (MEM) Shutdown Supervisor. I have only been here for a few months but at this stage it has been quite a smooth transition.

Can you tell us about the role you’re currently in and what impact it has on the operation?

My role as MEM Shutdown Supervisor is involved in the planning, execution and analysis of MEM shutdowns. At this stage, it is focussing on the diggers; however, the role is evolving to include all high priority mobile equipment at the mine. Generally speaking, a shutdown will include a lot more work and often more technical and specialised tasks that a normal non-shutdown planned maintenance event. Therefore, there is typically more labour hire, component change-outs and high-risk activities to plan for and supervise.

What career or life accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

As I mentioned above, I am proud of what I achieved during my apprenticeship. Additionally, in the second year of my apprenticeship I was all but project managing the electrical install of the carbon capture plant at Munmorah Power Station. This was a big project and I learnt a lot being thrown in the deep end there. I was reporting directly to the Environmental Corporate Manager who was based in Sydney, so I was the electrical contact onsite which made me feel rather important! Post apprenticeship, I have been proud of owning and running a successful small business over five years while continuing to work full time as well as completing my MBA in November 2017.

Outside of work-related achievements, I am most proud of myself for taking the time to understand who I am as a person, how I differ from others and accepting this as a good thing. Additionally, I have not given into any social expectations/pressures as to what I should be doing with my life. An example is the usual marriage and/or children timelines that society has. We are doing things the way we want to and when we want to and I’m proud of both of us for that!

Have you ever had any career roadblocks, or had to work with any difficult personalities? If so, how did you overcome them?

As mentioned before, I have worked with many difficult people and not only in the mines. I think that is something everyone deals with in most workplaces. However, it was after my confronting initiation into the mining industry mentioned above that I trained myself to think of every difficult situation as an opportunity to better myself. I learnt that you cannot control certain situations or the behaviours of others, but you can control how you react to it. This idea of being in control of your own mindset has given me the ability to (mostly) remain level headed and calm during stressful confrontations.

As for roadblocks, I can’t think of any that I have been hung up on, just obstacles that need navigating before moving forward.

Are you involved in any extra-curricular activities? (industry or community roles)

Up until recently I was involved in Toastmasters, which began when I got my job as supervisor to build my confidence in public and impromptu speaking. I have found it to be a great program. I was the Vice President of Public Relations of my club, which was a great learning experience. I like to follow my interests when they spark and get involved 110 per cent. However, I love learning and experiencing new things and find repetition can drain me which is why I won’t often commit to too many things at once.

How do you prepare yourself for work? 

I used to have an hour travel to and from work and I used this hour of driving as valuable alone time to prepare for work. I would regularly alternate between audio books, podcasts or music to set my mood for the shift. For example, if I knew I had difficult conversations to make, I would listen to leadership-style podcasts. If I felt like I’m lacking in confidence/inspiration I would listen to motivational podcasts or books. If I just want to relax or pump up for nightshift I would listen to music.

I now live 10 mins from work which has its positive and negative aspects. At this stage I am still settling in and don’t have any rituals. I am just trying to be as receptive and adaptable as I can until I have found my groove.

Do you have any personal or professional goals on the radar?

Having completed my MBA, I am trying to give myself a break from any short-term professional goals, although I’m sure that won’t last long. In the short-term, I plan to take opportunities when they arise and step outside my comfort zone. I believe this will open opportunities I probably haven’t even considered yet. I am choosing at this stage not to limit myself to one particular path/goal.

I do have plenty of personal goals that I was putting off the last few years while studying. These include taking improv classes, learning a second language, learning to mix music and getting more involved in share trading and portfolio building. As usual I have a lot I want to do and not enough time to do it all at once!

How do you get a good work/life balance?  If you have children, how do you juggle that as well?

Well, I don’t have children which makes things a lot easier I’m sure. Even still, last year I found myself doing nothing much apart from work, study, chores and sleep.

Work + study + chores + sleep ≈ no life

One massive improvement I have made this year is using the app AirTasker to offload some of my chores! My main win was finding someone who makes us freshly cooked homemade meals and individually packs them for lunches and dinners each fortnight. For only $10 per meal I am getting fed better then when I was cooking and I am saving so much time. No grocery shopping, no cooking every night etc, I love it!

Also, this last year my husband and I have made a concerted effort to attend more events/concerts/places etc. It obviously comes at a cost; however, it’s a nice feeling to look back over the year with many fond memories rather than just wonder where the time went.

What is one of the hardest personal/professional decisions you’ve ever had to make?

I think the hardest professional decision I have ever made was to sell our business after five years. It was becoming a real strain on our lives, with 12 staff to coordinate and mainly weekend and night work. To be a viable option I needed to quit my job in the mines so as I could focus on building it up more and setting it up to be more self-sufficient. For a few reasons my husband and I decided it best to keep our current jobs and sell the business. This was really hard for me especially as I had put a lot of time into it. I loved the business development side that comes with improving a small business and the freedom to be creative that it enabled. Additionally, I didn’t want to contribute to the statistic that states that the majority of small businesses either fold or are sold within five years; it was an ego thing.

Do you have any life and/or work advice for our readers?

Motivational quotes are so common that they are losing impact in my eyes; however, one that I have hung onto during times of struggle at work was ‘A lion is not concerned about the opinions of the sheep’. This has helped me a few times when I have been dealing with unsupportive or negative people in the workplace who seem to enjoy dragging you down. It reminds me that some people’s opinions are irrelevant because no matter what, they will always be unhappy.

A few other things I really believe in are:

  • Getting as much experience as you can in all fields of your workplace and accepting all opportunities that come your way, whether you feel qualified or not.
  • Helping apprentices as much as you can, some people forget that they didn’t know much when they started and relied on others to help them.
  • Not burning any bridges because it’s actually a very small industry and word gets around fast, good and bad.
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