One of mining’s real rock stars, BHP’s Kerry Turnock, has put out a call for other companies to adopt the major’s successful first-year university student intern program, part of its extensive response to the industry’s shrinking technical talent pool.
Speaking at the AusIMM Iron Ore Conference 2023 in Perth, Western Australia, Turnock said BHP’s program aiming to give first-year university students a no-holds-barred look at the industry over five-week summer internships had achieved high conversion rates. The students studying in areas such as maths, science, engineering and spatial sciences but with “zero interest in joining our sector” were paid to spend the time learning about mining.
“We show them the good, we show them the bad, and we show them the downright ugly,” said Turnock, one of mining’s most articulate and passionate geoscience communicators.
“We open the door up for them. We take them to site and give them meaningful projects. Not motherhood projects, but meaningful projects to work on.
“We give them access to graduates. We give them access to seasoned professionals. And we give them access to leaders. Every week we have a, you can’t ask me that session. As they roll through their [internship] they become more confident and they start to ask the questions that really matter for whether they want to be in our industry or not.
“We tell them we haven’t got it right; none of us have got it right. But we want to be better and we want them to be part of that solution to help us to be better. So if they think our industry could be better, get on board on the inside because that’s where you make the most effective changes.”
The program is in its third year and BHP has retained 90% of the 60 students who started year one. Two further annual recruitment drives have achieved strong results.
“That 90% of 60 is not a bad increase in numbers,” Turnock said.
“We’ve put this on the table for any other company to come and take our modules; we will give you everything.
“The more companies that want to do this the greater chance we’ve got of building the pool of people that we need.
“Even if you take five or 10 [students] and follow the same module, we’ve got a chance of actually building capability.
“This isn’t so BHP has graduates it’s so the industry has graduates.”
Turnock said educating primary and secondary school educators remained a priority for the industry, “because they are the people that allow conversations about geoscience into the classroom”.
She said a generation of educators had generally been grounded on anti-mining and anti-resource sector thinking.
“How do we get into their syllabus and enable them to understand what we do and about the … engineering, mathematical and scientific opportunities that sit within the industry? And to allow children to have the opportunity to explore themselves.
“We’re not asking them to like or dislike our industry. All we want them to be is informed.”