In 2010 Jacqui Higgins moved from Queensland to South Australia to take up a role at the Whyalla steelworks that would give her important career experience.
Initially Jacqui viewed this as an adventure, an opportunity to prove herself over two years and then move on.
Ten years later, not only is Higgins still in Whyalla, she is the most senior female in an operational role as Executive General Manager Iron Ore Operations for SIMEC Mining – leading a workforce of 1,000+ as part of the GFG Alliance. But Higgins didn’t start out in resources.
After gaining her Masters’ degree in Commerce, majoring in Industrial Relations, at the University of Wollongong NSW, she stayed in NSW for six years working in the field of Industrial Relations. In 1998, she moved from Sydney to Brisbane and over the next 10 years worked in a range of industries, with national and international projects under her belt before landing a role in steel manufacturing with the Australian Reinforcing Company (ARC) in 2008.
Then in 2010 came the offer to work in what is now LIBERTY Steel in Whyalla. Initially employed in human resources, she then joined the mining division in 2012 which led to a new job as health and safety manager. That role continued when the business became SIMEC Mining, before another exciting career opportunity arose in 2018, when Higgins became Head of Operations – Hematite. Hematite is a critical ingredient in steel making.
In her role, Higgins oversees hundreds of employees and contractors on a daily basis. It is this career diversity and the encouragement to seize every opportunity that Higgins loves about working in resources.
“The teams I have worked with have encouraged and supported me in this transition,” she says. “I’m not afraid to ask for help and people always come forward to help guide me that gives me the confidence to be able to step in the space and own it”
A lot more women have chosen this pathway and it’s up to us to make sure that having a female at the head of an operation is not unusual or unique, it is actually just what we do.”
Higgins’ role covers mine planning, open cut iron ore mining, processing and logistics including rail and shipping through the Whyalla Port. It’s an operational role and therefore perhaps a surprising role for a former human resources manager – but for Higgins, it’s the perfect fit.
“The biggest thing I have learned is that I don’t need to be a technical engineer or a miner to be successful. I’m able to draw on my core skills in human resources to collaborate and bring the right people together to be able to extract the unique solutions for really complex problems,” she says.
Those skills have also helped Higgins to establish valuable links with the local Barngarla people, particularly in relation to Walga Mining, which provides crushing, screening and processing, material handling and train loading activities at Iron Knob.
“I have worked in partnership with Walga for more than eight years to help develop and grow their business,” she says. “Walga continues to grow, and to see that happen in our local environment and to have that recognition for the Barngarla people in the Whyalla community is fantastic.”
Higgins’ efforts were recently recognised with a nomination at the 2020 SACOME Women of the Year awards.
“It’s a great honour to be included in such an auspicious group of females across the industry,” she says. “It’s something really important that we need to keep promoting more widely, to demonstrate that women can get a seat at the table in industries that have traditionally been dominated by men. A lot more women have chosen this pathway and it’s up to us to make sure that having a female at the head of an operation is not unusual or unique, it is actually just what we do.”
To make that happen, Higgins is quick to encourage more women to join the resources sector.
“The industry provides a wide range of opportunities, whether it’s in the pit, technical role or functional, and it’s exciting to be able to move around and really test your skills,” she says. “It’s tough and it will test you, so being confident in what you bring to the table is the key to success.
“I would encourage everybody to give it a go because I certainly enjoy what I do. Even on a difficult day I know we’re making a difference – we are enabling future generations to be able to move to renewable resources through what we do today.”
This feature on Jacqui Higgins originally appeared in SACOME’s Resourceful digital magazine.