Diversity of role turns ‘stepping stone’ into long-term career

Thu June, 4th 2020

Before Jason Clifford commenced his role with Elastomers Australia 16 years ago, he’d never worked in mining.

But a move to Emerald in Queensland’s central highland region sparked his interest in the industry and he landed his first role as a service technician –one of only two Elastomers Australia staff based in the branch.

Until then, Jason had been working in what he described as a “dream role for a young bloke”, travelling Australia as a machinery operator with a team that built new vineyards.

“When I moved to Emerald I saw a lot of young kids driving around in flash cars and wondered why,” Jason said.

“I didn’t know a lot about mining at that point but it looked like a stable career move.”

After a local recruitment consultant recommended Jason for the role with Elastomers Australia, he and his boss would travel between seven mine sites. Most were on four week shutdown rotations so it meant a lot of time on the road.

While Jason had initially seen the role with Elastomers Australia as a stepping stone into the industry and had plans to move on to a mining company when he could, he’s still there 16 years later. He also ended up marrying the recruitment consultant who found him the job.

“Originally I thought what have I got myself into? It was summer, hot as hell in Queensland and we were working long hours,” Jason said.

“But the diversity of work, the rapid growth of the company and the opportunities that continued to come up kept me interested.

“There’s a really strong mentoring culture across all aspects of the business and we are always growing. When I started in Emerald there were two of us in that branch and maybe half a dozen in Mackay.

“Now there’s more than 80 staff across the Queensland branches and hundreds of us around the country, we’re always picking up new clients and the technology and innovation keeps evolving all the time.”

Within a year, after the Emerald branch manager moved on, Jason stepped into that role and started building the Emerald workforce.

In 2010, he moved to Mackay and took on the company’s first Queensland-based business development role, before subsequently being appointed state manager.

Two years ago, his role expanded again to include management of New South Wales and the Northern Territory as well.

The managerial duties have not meant an end to the travel or hands-on involvement.

“Before COVID-19, I was on the road, flying to Brisbane and interstate maybe three days a week, meeting clients to discuss optimising production and working with our customer solutions specialists to design solutions,” he said.

“We’re also manufacturing a significant number of panels in Mackay on a daily basis – when I started it was a few dozen a week.”

Jason has certainly seen some changes across the industry since he started, both in regards to screen media technology and client thinking.

“There’s a lot more focus on productivity, efficiency and safety across the industry today, and that’s allowed Elastomers Australia to develop both our products, and our service offerings and expertise,” he said.

“Ease of maintenance has changed significantly. It all used to be bolted in and had to be cut out, which took a lot of time and typically required hot work in confined spaces.

“Now it’s all clip in, clip out which means less production downtime, elimination of risks and allows us to swap out different types of panels with ease so we can address all sorts of changing client requirements.

“It’s no longer just about sticking to a maintenance schedule because that’s how it was always done –  we can optimise wear life and address changing ore characteristics, not just to reduce costs of consumable screen media panels, but to generate a lot more revenue for the client from more productive screening processes.

“When clients focus on screen media optimsation and work with us to monitor, innovate and adjust on an ongoing basis, they see a phenomenal return on their investment.”

While innovation has always been at the heart of the Elastomers Australia philosophy, Jason says there’ll be some exciting times ahead as the company keeps pace with a rapidly changing mining industry.

“There’s a big focus on digitisation across the industry, which generates some exciting opportunities to develop technology to measure throughput and wear in real time,” he said.

Outside work, when at home Jason keeps busy with his family and enjoys motorbike riding, both on and off-road. And, after 18 years living in Queensland, he says it’s very much where he belongs.

“As long as the industry keeps evolving, and Elastomers Australia keeps evolving with it, I can’t see myself doing anything else,” he said.

Over his 16 years with Elastomers Australia, Jason has built his knowledge, experience and qualifications to become one of the leading coal handling processing plant subject matter experts in the company.

Coupled with his on-the-job training working with most CHPPs throughout Queensland and New South Wales, Jason holds a Certificate IV in Engineering and has completed various Coal Preparation Society competencies.