Mining Engineer

James Henderson, Mining Engineer

As part of our Careers in Mining series, this post looks at the job of Mining Engineer with James Henderson of Rio Tinto.

James is a Canadian Mining Engineer currently working in Australia. He has worked in mines producing copper, diamonds and coal. He has experience in Mine Operations, Mine Planning, Mineral Processing, Environmental Services, Mine Approvals and Costing. He holds a degree in Mining Engineering from the University of British Columbia. He is currently enjoying the beautiful weather with his wife and three children near Newcastle, New South Wales.
What came first – a desire to go into mining, or the desire to become an engineer?

I went back to school as a mature student (at 22) to get a Degree. I didn’t have a fixed goal before getting the applications to different universities. In the process of looking into each school, it became apparent early on that I would be going into the “Sciences” and from there Engineering was an easy choice. As for the Mining side of things, it took me all of one month to look at all the choices UBC offered, and decide that Mining or Geological Engineering was right for me. I selected Mining, Geological, and Civil Engineering – in that order – and was given my first choice of specialties.

Has your job allowed you to travel? If so, where to?
Yes, I have been lucky in my career so far. I was hired immediately out of school to a local BC company, and after a few years was given the opportunity to work in Australia. The company relocated my family and I to NSW, and I have been working here for 2 years.

If you are away from home for extended periods, what makes you the type of person that can do this successfully?
I have not yet had to work a Fly In Fly Out, except for a short stint while working between school terms. I have always been able to find residential jobs, which I prefer, so that I can be home to the family every day. While I was doing the FIFO to the NWT in Canada, I found it challenging to be away from my wife and daughter.

What does your average day look like?
The average day can vary greatly depending on what role I am working at the time. As Mining Engineers, there is a lot of variety in the work that we are expected to do. I have been a Pit Foreman (working 14 hour days in the operations side of the business), a Short-Range Planner (working 50/50 in the site office and the pit), a Medium-Range Planner (working almost entirely in the site office), a Blasting Engineer (working 70/30 in the pit). Currently I am working as a Design Engineer, typically starting at 7:00am and working until about 4:00pm, Monday through Friday.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
The highlight of my career has been the amazing people that I have had the pleasure of working with. I have had some great bosses and co-workers. Everyone you meet has had different experiences in mining and there is always an opportunity to share and learn more.

What do you love most about your job?
The thing I love most about my job is the ability to make a difference and improve the mine on an almost daily basis. Most of the work that goes across my desk will be built within a short period of time, and I get a great deal of satisfaction in seeing the designs built/dug/exploded. Mining Engineers have access to a vast amount of data for each site, and noticing trends or opportunities can lead to improvements in the process or specific plan. This continuous improvement goal keeps the job fresh challenging and rewarding.

There must be aspects of the job which you don’t enjoy so much. What are they?
The hardest part of my job is watching good opportunities missed because there wasn’t enough time to look into the options, or someone deciding that they did not want to try a new approach.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow a similar career path?
Get jobs in the breaks between school years, build connections in the industry, and be willing to look into any opportunity that crosses your path. While I graduated as a Mining Engineer, when the opportunity to work in Environmental Services and Mineral Processing arose, I jumped on the chances, and it has broadened and deepened my abilities as a Mining Engineer.

For more interviews with mining professionals in different jobs, have a look at our main Careers in Mining post.

Header photo: aerial seeding at Highland Valley Copper. Image courtesy of Teck Resources Ltd.