Anglo American’s Katie Buttery shares a story of an electrical engineering career at the coalface
Sometimes a picture really does speak a thousand words. Search for ‘Katie Buttery’ on LinkedIn. Amid the countless photos of suits, power poses and perfect smiles, you’ll see a picture of a woman in high-vis and hard hat, standing in what looks like an underground cage, covered in coal. The natural smile on her face contrasts beautifully with the darkness around her - she’s delighted and proud to be there.
The path to underground engineering
Katie is Anglo American’s Coal Clearance Electrical Coordinator at Moranbah North Mine. She’s been there five years, having started out with the company as a vacation student prior to graduating university. She was then selected for a scholarship and was offered a graduate electrical engineering position in January 2014. We start our conversation by asking her how she got into this field in the first place.
“I was good at maths and physics at school so I chose to pursue an electrical engineering degree at Central Queensland University (CQU). I grew up in Yeppoon and so I‘m no stranger to mining. My Dad is still in the industry too - he used to mine coal with a pick and a gas lamp!”
Katie speaks enthusiastically about her CQU studies, applauding the wealth of practical experience she gained. Since joining Anglo American, her growth and progression have continued, and she’s clearly pleased with, and grateful for, her career path so far. Katie’s current role sees her design, install, commission and maintain conveyor and electrical systems at Moranbah North Mine. She explains:
“I coordinate the works to ensure the Longwall and Development conveyors are installed to a high standard, and I ensure reliability of conveyor systems. I also mentor electrical school-based trainees and apprentices, graduates and vacation students who are new to the business. I really enjoy assisting with their onboarding and helping them develop their understanding of underground coal mining.”
This leads perfectly to our next question. What’s it like to work underground?
“It’s hard! It’s underground! It’s a dusty, noisy, hot environment, which is definitely not for everyone. You’ve got to be tough. I love it.”
Katie’s realism is refreshing and makes her positivity about her role even more striking. She’s clearly a no-nonsense professional with a ‘get stuck in’ attitude, but it’s also possible to detect a hint of vulnerability and deep connection.
“It hasn’t always been easy but I’m proud of what I do… of how far I’ve come and what I’ve achieved. I couldn’t have succeeded or got to where I am now without the support and help of those around me.”
“We’re mates” – real connection and support
Support and relationships are a common theme in our conversation with Katie, particularly when she talks about her role at Anglo American. She says it’s a respectful and professional workplace, and she refers numerous times to the sense of ‘mateship’ and family you get when working in an underground environment. She enjoys strong and positive relationships with the electrical trades people she works alongside, a workforce which is still dominated by men. When asked how she has built those relationships, she suggests that it starts with respect and the ability to connect:
“I’m out here, earning my stripes. I don’t have an electrical trade, I have an engineering degree. So I need to engage them and gain an understanding of their roles. I don’t go down and say, ‘I’m the engineer, I’m in charge’. I engage with them, share the vision, then work alongside them. I think of relationships as bank accounts. If I deposit some money into everyone’s bank account, I can take some money out later.”
This approach has clearly benefited Katie in her growth and impact:
“The people I work with have helped me so much with my development. They also make my job a whole lot easier. I have a good emotional connection with so many of my team mates. Sometimes the blokes in particular talk to me about things that they don’t want to share with other blokes. Those relationships are a key reason why I love where I work.”
It’s clear that Katie’s choice of employer is also inspired by other factors. She raves about the scale of Anglo American’s processes and the incredible technology they use for cutting the coal, which she says is “seriously impressive”. She then shares that Anglo American are passionate about mentoring and teaching others.
“We build the whole team, not just ourselves. I really love sharing what I know. And others do the same thing. I’ve learned a lot here, and had the opportunity to take part in some really good leadership conferences and training on topics such as conflict resolution. That’s been key to my own growth.”
So how about the future?
Katie says she’s excited about where she’s heading. She’s just been asked to do her underground Electrical Engineering Manager (EEM) Competencies Course, which she says will help her progress in the longer term to a superintendent or manager role.
“I know I can continue here… to keep improving in this industry and to become a good leader. I want to develop and mentor other women and men and see them succeed.”
When we ask about the challenges of attracting women to the underground environment, Katie’s response is immediate and straight down the line:
“Of course it’s not a job for all women, but neither is it a job for all men. It’s up to the individual to experience and decide. Personally, I am passionate about showing others that women can work as electrical engineers in underground with no limitation whatsoever.”
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