Case study: Attracting and retaining graduates – is there a secret sauce?
In today’s dynamic job market, both employees and graduates are seeking ways to make the most of their roles.
The focus for the resources industry is not only on attraction, but also on retaining talent.
This highlights the importance of providing appealing opportunities for graduates, flexible work options, fostering a thriving and supportive working environment, and providing opportunities for employees to see how their work contributes positively to the community and the planet.
Given this imperative, many resources industry companies have established graduate programs to provide opportunities to those entering the workforce, and upskill new employees. At Sedgman, part of the CIMIC Group, the Graduate Program gives graduates the opportunity to learn and develop while working on innovative designs, with talented project delivery teams, and the opportunity to learn from industry leaders.
In this article, we sat down with a recent and current graduate to gain their insights into what attracted them to the mining industry, and their overall experience in the graduate program. Their insights provide some clues into how the mining industry can offer a fulfilling work environment and purpose-driven roles that are attractive for socially and environmentally conscious graduates.
Background and context
In Australia, numerous companies spanning various industries actively promote their graduate programs to prospective employees, aiming to attract top-tier talent.
In aspirations to attract the right candidates, organisations dive deep into understanding the current cohort of graduates – those born between 1997 and 2012, known as Generation ‘Zoomer’ or Gen Z, and their attitude towards work. Most reviews of employers left by Gen Z include “work environment”, “flexible hours” and “good pay” as the top key words for these upcoming leaders of the future (Johnson, 2022). Human Resources Director Australia attributes three factors as the top contributors for work satisfaction for Gen Z: flexible working, meaningful work and a sense of accomplishment for their role (Tamaray, 2022).
For Gen Z, ‘meaningful work’ is often tied to a deep concern about the planet’s wellbeing and the ability to influence others to make sustainability-impacted decisions (Wood, 2022). Deloitte conducted a survey of Gen Z indicating that the environment is a top concern for this generation. It also presented a direct correlation with their career choice, with 49 per cent of participants stating personal ethics played a significant role when choosing their career paths.
According to McKinsey, 71 per cent of mining leaders are finding the talent shortage is holding them back from delivering on production targets and strategic objectives (McKinsey, 2023). The McKinsey data shows that there is a 39 per cent decrease in mining engineering graduates as the mining sector is less attractive to young talent.
However, the mining industry encompasses numerous elements that correspond with Gen Z's top priorities. With projections of the Australian labour demand for mining operations and projects of around 24,400 new workers by 2026, the demand is outstripping the supply with graduates in the industry now (McKinsey, 2023).
What attracts current grads into the mining industry and grad programs?
We spoke to Helena Sawyer, a current sustainability graduate with Sedgman, and Chloe Lahiff, a recent graduate who is now a process engineer with the company.
Chloe had been studying at a university in Queensland before being referred by a friend to apply for the graduate program.
“I started the Sedgman grad program in the process design team in Brisbane. Hoping to try something new and gain some hands-on experience, I asked to join the Operations team in my next rotation for some site time, and never looked back! I never thought that I would be someone who could work on a mine site, and it still surprises my family that I do this, but I love it.”
A great work environment is one factor that is top of the list for Gen Z, and this can be seen in organisations that have employees with long tenures.
“At Sedgman, the fact that so many graduates are now senior business leaders gives a clear sentiment that there are great opportunities for growth and career progression,” said Chloe.
Many students who have been engaged as undergraduates with the business are joining the graduate program as they complete their degrees. Similar to Chloe, Helena Sawyer felt drawn, when she initially entered the organisation, by seeing the long tenure of Sedgman leaders.
“After I did an internship, I entered the graduate program because I liked that I felt supported. I saw firsthand that my manager, Jenny Agnew, Business Sustainability Manager had been there for over 20 years and that was a green flag that people stay here for so long,” said Helena.
Each individual goes into a graduate program uncertain of the experience, but there are a few valuable reasons for anyone looking into the mining industry to join a graduate program.
“It’s an incredible time to try new things – I never thought I’d be working on a mine site before starting the program, but now I practically live in hi-vis and rarely have a day at work I don’t enjoy,” said Chloe.
The two graduates have both found that the program, though they work in different areas, provides rewarding experiences and an opportunity to be given meaningful responsibility.
“The huge amount of responsibility, freedom and support that I have been granted by my superiors has been the most enjoyable part of the graduate experience – I am always made to feel like I am contributing something valuable to the team,” said Chloe.
What does sustainability have to do with it?
The move to net zero means there needs to be more mining, to provide the materials needed for the transition. With Gen Z caring about the future of the earth the mining industry may be the industry to work in to drive the most impact (Amos, 2021).
Jenny Agnew MAusIMM has seen firsthand the evolution of the mining industry. With a family full of engineers, she was intrigued by the industry and began her career as a graduate process engineer, and now has a lead role in strategy and sustainability, including supporting the development of graduates.
“Jenny has been a great mentor and has especially grown my interest in the sustainability space,” said Helena.
“I have been at Sedgman since I graduated and have felt very supported, though flexible work while raising a family, engaging and challenging work, and the opportunity to experience various roles. During this time, it has been fascinating to see how the sector is transforming to tackle the responsibility of producing minerals in a more sustainable way. Most notably decarbonisation and tailings management challenges remain a huge obstacle to address and requires us to collaborate across technical disciplines, and even outside the industry, to adopt innovative approaches to mine design and management,” said Jenny.
The demand for technologies like electric vehicles has driven a shift in the industry’s focus commodities towards battery and transmission minerals including copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt and graphite.
“It’s encouraging to see support for projects providing a range of critical commodities to reach energy transition efforts globally,” said Mrs Agnew. “In particular I am excited by emerging opportunities to support minerals supply and improved rehabilitation outcomes through reprocessing of tailings”.
What engages graduates is their understanding of how their work contributes to improved outcomes – for local communities, environment, and climate. Every business and role is unique, but this can include supporting employees in volunteering time to relevant organisations. It may also involve role-specific tasks such as reviewing the CO2 equivalent emissions impact of options at early design stage, selecting designs and improvements to reduce materials quantities and energy use, implementing local recycling initiatives, selecting lower-impact equipment and materials, working to increase local and Indigenous engagement in the supply chain, or planning for positive post mining land use transitions.
“I’m lucky to work in an organisation that values its people and the environment and provides us with the tools and resources to make a real difference for the future,” said Helena.
Like many businesses across the industry, mandatory ESG training has been implemented to raise awareness of how risks and opportunities related to ESG criteria are managed in the business, and how each employee can contribute to these initiatives.
Final reflections on graduate programs and their importance for both employers and graduates
As competition increases, and talent pools get tight, resourcing and retaining talent continues to be a huge objective for many businesses.
Graduates hold a distinct significance in reinforcing Sedgman's commitment to diversity, nurturing emerging talent, and ensuring sustainable growth. They bring fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and unique skill sets, forming a diverse talent pool that enriches any workforce.
Drawing from the innovative energy and passion of these graduates, we feel our business is better equipped to confront future industry challenges and opportunities.
Our graduates gain exposure, experience, and mentorship from industry-leading engineers and technical leaders right from the start. Over the course of two years, they will typically rotate through different business units, gaining experience across the entire project lifecycle, including operations. They often get to see projects come to life on site - an exciting experience to offer insights into career pathway opportunities.
Retention is supported by helping graduates experience a sense of individuality and alignment in their roles, in a non-standardised approach. With many mining and METS companies having global footprints, there are opportunities to learn and experience working in a variety of locations, which can also be attractive for those commencing a career in this industry.
As the program concludes, we work together with our graduates to evaluate their strengths, interests, career goals, and support them in achieving their career aspirations.
Amos, 2021. ‘Move to net zero 'inevitably means more mining', BBC [online]. Available from: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-57234610
Johnson R, 2022. ‘A Change of Pace For Gen Z Employees Entering the Workforce’, Glassdoor [online]. Available from: https://www.glassdoor.com/research/gen-z-employees-entering-the-workforce
McKinsey & Company, 2023. ‘Has mining lost its luster? Why talent is moving elsewhere and how to bring them back’ [online]. Available from: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/metals-and-mining/our-insights/has-mining-lost-its-luster-why-talent-is-moving-elsewhere-and-how-to-bring-them-back
Tamaray P, 2022. ‘How can employers attract and retain Gen Z and Millennial talent?’, Human Resource Director (HRD) [online]. Available from: https://www.hcamag.com/au/specialisation/employment-law/how-can-employers-attract-and-retain-gen-z-and-millennial-talent/417524
Wood J, 2022. ‘Gen Z cares about sustainability more than anyone else – and is starting to make others feel the same’, World Economic Forum [online]. Available from: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/03/generation-z-sustainability-lifestyle-buying-decisions/