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Candice Hales

What's your job about?

My first rotation of the CIMIC Group Graduate Program saw me placed at Rocky’s Reward in Leinster, Western Australia. Working on an open cut nickel mine site has provided me with a multitude of responsibilities as a Geotechnical Engineer for Thiess. I have been able to experience various projects including installation of ground support, remediation of failure slopes and management of voids from underground workings.

 As part of the Geotechnical team, we are depended upon to provide safe working conditions for production and technical service teams working within and around the pit.

Our day begins with reviewing the movement monitoring systems, which are two wall scanning radars and the slope stability prism network. From the data collected, we analyse movement trends and determine if there are areas of concern to be inspected and highlighted to crews. Daily updates are provided and plans to remediate areas for drainage, ramp widening, dumping or localised failure are proposed. Field measurements also form part of our investigations, with groundwater levels, piezometers, time domain reflectometers (TDRs), extensometers and crack meters measured weekly. Documents we frequently use to approve of working below sections of the pit are Wall Sign-Offs, where we apply mapping and photogrammetry techniques to determine potential failure modes. Geotechnical Records inform of instability events such as rock fall or void openings, for hazard management. Computer software and rock fall analysis programs are utilised to model rock mass ground conditions and assess slope stability.  

What's your background?

Born and bred in Brisbane, I attended a local state school and had ambitions to pursue a job that would allow me to travel. I grew up loving the outdoors, spending weekends and holidays fishing, boating, hiking and going to the beach.

From a young age, my parents would take my sister and I on different adventures. We would road trip, rail, cruise and fly interstate and overseas, to see various parts of Australia, the USA, Singapore, Hong Kong, New Caledonia and New Zealand. Some holidays were family based, and others I took solo with groups. I was also a massive bookworm, and would spend hours on end reading.

Originally I wanted to pursue a career in radiography. However, after an internship, I knew my calling was elsewhere. Engineering was suggested and as my favourite subject was chemistry, I believed chemical engineering would be of interest.

Starting tertiary studies at the University of Queensland, I quickly learnt chemical engineering was not for me. Natural processes and resources of the earth had always fascinated me, and so a dual major in mining and geotechnical engineering allowed me to pursue that curiosity. No one in my family is involved in mining so I was completely jumping into the deep end. With my sights set, I applied for various Graduate Geotechnical Engineer programs and accepted Thiess’ invitation. I have currently been in this position for nine months, and would not change my career path in anyway.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

Many people could qualify to do this job, but they would only enjoy it provided they liked rocks, working indoors and outdoors, and are willing to give every task a go.

Geotechnical engineering is not just about inspecting a wall and seeing if there is anything abnormal compared to the design. It involves balancing field and office work, with each day different from what you planned. You need to be flexible, creative and focused on the task. If you are interested in the behaviour of rocks and their response to forces within its physical environment, I would recommend it.

What's the coolest thing about your job?

Moments that show me that I am doing the right thing are the ones that give me a burst of energy and passion to continue the task and finish the job. It changes your outlook and gives you a new perspective for what you are trying to achieve.

I enjoy working in the field, analysing data trends and understanding the mechanics for why movement may be occurring. I love the fact that this workplace is dynamic and everyone works together as a team. Employment in this industry is not just a job, it’s adopting the whole lifestyle.

What are the limitations of your job?

My current site has a FIFO roster, where I began on a 2/1 (work 14 days, 7 days off) and changed to a 12/9. Limitations include working two weekends of three, so social time with friends and family back home is precious. Travelling back and forward across the country can be draining, but this is what I chose to do and love it.

Some work activities are physically demanding, for example installing prisms and see snaking voids (downhole camera). There is a lot of responsibility in terms of making decisions for other's safety and providing recommendations to increase wall stability.

3 pieces of advice for yourself when you were a student...

If I could go back in time and meet myself, I would advise myself of the following three things:

  • You have time, don’t rush things, especially the important things, like moments with family and friends.
  • It is not worth stressing over things that you have no control over. If things are supposed to happen that way, then let them. Take the chance and any opportunities you get.
  • Work smart, not hard. Manage your time well. Don’t waste energy on something that is not working, try something else or adopt a new approach.