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Alcoa Australia

4.5
  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

John Wu

An engineering degree is the foundation to this role, however much of the hands-on learnings allow me to apply and build on the academic learnings of university.

What's your job about?

Alcoa’s Australian operations represent one of the world’s largest integrated bauxite mining, alumina refining and aluminium smelting systems - my core responsibilities lie in alumina refining. 

As a graduate mechanical engineer working at Alcoa’s Kwinana refinery, my primary objective is to assist with day to day activities to achieve long-term objectives and ensure the reliability of mechanical equipment, so that production goals are met.

Given our operations run 24/7, a typical day will start by reviewing works completed since I was last on site. It is a dynamic environment, so it is essential to get up to date quickly. This is done through meetings, talking to colleagues and reading emails. Each day I reschedule my priorities with the highest being those critical to maintenance or production.

A good example of this is pump overhauls. Essentially this is where we change out critical pump parts on a timed or predictive maintenance schedule to ensure that the pump will achieve required performance. Understanding performance data and planning are critical.  Unexpected failure of the pump can result in production loss due to downtime. Effective data analysis means peak performance.   

What's your background?

I have two older brothers and grew up in Whitfords, a coastal suburb in Perth’s northern suburbs. In 2013, I started studying at The University of Western Australia, pursing my interests in engineering and management. During this time, my main philosophy was to be as involved as possible and get as much experience as I could. I worked in hospitality roles (as most students do), tutored secondary and tertiary students, held leadership roles in university clubs and volunteered a lot.

Before joining Alcoa, I worked for a large consulting company for a short time, however, I had always wanted hands-on site experience.  Alcoa’s Engineering Graduate Program provides opportunities for a range of rotations to its three Western Australian refineries and two mine sites.  When the opportunity arose, I joined the program.  It is fantastic for my development, but another big drawcard is the site experience without the remote location (no FIFO). I have been in the Alcoa Engineering Graduate Program for a year and a half now. I spent my first 14 months at Kwinana Alumina Refinery and have now moved to Alcoa’s Global Asset Management Team, located at Booragoon in Perth. In this role, I work on projects across all of the Western Australian operations and I am also involved with projects at Alcoa’s global refineries and smelters.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

As long as you have an appropriate engineering degree, you will satisfy the requirement for this role. An engineering degree is the foundation to this role, however much of the hands-on learnings allow me to apply and build on the academic learnings of university. Other attributes of an ideal candidate include good communication skills, an appetite to learn, critical problem-solving skills, a passion for understanding the detail and a strong interest in working on site where you can get your hands dirty.

What's the coolest thing about your job?

The coolest thing about my job is when I simply walk out of my office straight into the refinery.  Then at the end of the day I return home rather than living on site in a camp.

As alumina refining is a complex process, the convenience and level of immersion become invaluable to your learning. Seeing jobs performed firsthand in the field is a whole different experience to sitting in an office and observing from afar.

What are the limitations of your job?

From your very first day, you will be involved in work that can directly impact production so concentration and attention to detail are critical.

The job can also be physically demanding and you are expected to get your hands dirty helping out with site jobs. This can range from standing on top of a tank and watching a few-hundred kilo agitator being changed out, to standing on platforms watching pumps being removed and replaced, the maintenance crew could even get you involved. There is never a dull day, but for me that is definitely a positive.

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

  • Enjoy university and get the most out of it by being involved in all kinds of activities such as industry related events (hackathons, networking and industry competitions), social events and volunteering.
  • Do your homework and have a plan for where you want to head in the future. Research the industry you want to work in, understand the type of work you will be involved in, learn about the different types of engineering roles in the industry, and investigate all the different paths for you to reach your goal.
  • Understand there are hundreds of ways to reach your end goal – so don’t be disheartened if you face a roadblock along the way. Keep researching and keep soldiering on as this hard work and determination will definitely be realised.