From the classroom to coal mine

Jessica Nicholls enjoying her role – and life on a mine site – for National Group at the Moolarben coal mine.

Jessica Nicholls’ career began as a casual teacher in Newcastle. She loved helping kids in kindergarten and primary school to learn and develop.

More than a decade later, Jess is a Site Administrator for National Group at Yancoal’s Moolarben coal mine in the Western coalfields of New South Wales.

Jess has an important role. As Site Administrator, she assists National Group’s maintenance team at Moolarben with parts ordering and delivery. She also oversees administration tasks and compliance requirements for new employees and sub-contractors– and looks after administration for National Group’s contract mining services at the site

Eager to experience life on a mine site, Jess lives at Ulan Village Green during weekdays before returning to Newcastle, her home town, on weekends.

“I love my role and working at National Group,” says Jess. “It’s a big change from teaching in Newcastle or working at National Group’s headquarters on the Gold Coast. But I always wanted to see what it would be like to live in a camp and work at a mine.”

In 2015, Jess joined National Group as a receptionist at its head office. When work was quiet, she looked for extra tasks within National and found them in the accounts department. A colleague showed Jess the basics of accounts payable.

By 2017, Jess had moved into a full-time accounts role and a year later was Accounts Payable Manager at National Group. As the company grew rapidly, so did its accounts payable work. Before long, Jess led a three-person team in accounts.

“From day one, National Group has been incredibly supportive of me,” says Jess. “They encouraged and helped me to build my career. Whenever I needed extra training or courses or upskilling, they were only too happy to provide for it.”

Expanding role at Moolarben

In July 2022, National Group’s contract-mining operation – National Mining Services – was awarded a three-year (plus two) mining-services contract at Yancoal’s world-class open-cut coal Moolarben mine. The contract is expected to create 75 jobs.

National Mining Services will use National Group’s ultra-class mining equipment on the contract, including Liebherr R9800 excavators, Liebherr T282 dump trucks and other ancillary equipment. The work includes the safe pre-stripping of a minimum of 15 million bank cubic metres (Mbcm) of overburden each year at Moolarben.

For Jess, this means an expanding role at Moolarben as more National Group people join the project and equipment arrives. “There’s a lot of admin work to do as the project ramps up,” says Jess. “My role is to manage the full on-boarding process for our employees and sub-contractors and ensure we comply with Yancoal’s requirements.”

On-boarding tasks include booking accommodation for new employees on site, collecting and processing information such as trade certificates and licences, and arranging medicals if required. “It can be busy when new staff arrive, but it’s important to do everything right and help people have a smooth transition onto site,” says Jess.

Assisting National Group’s maintenance team at Moolarben is another part of the role. “When equipment or parts arrive, I let the system know we have received the goods. If new parts are needed, I’ll raise that order. I’ll also schedule a service for equipment and log that in our system. National has really good record-keeping.”

Jess’s role at Moolarben is her second stint at National Group. She left the company early this year to move to Cairns in Far North Queensland, before returning to Newcastle to be near family. “I loved working for National Group on the Gold Coast and asked if they had any roles available near Newcastle. They called straight away and I got the job at Moolarben. I haven’t looked back.”

Jess’s interest in mine sites began through her work as an accounts payable clerk. “In that role, you build strong relationships with the National Group site managers. I liked hearing about what they doand wanted to experience mine life for myself.”

Initially, working on a remote mine site took an adjustment. “It’s very different living in a demountable during the week and being half an hour away from the nearest town,” says Jess. “I like the people at the site and the work. Having studied teaching at university, I never expected to work in mining, but I love it.”

Jess has considered doing more study in accounting. “I like the admin and compliance side of things and hope to continue my work at National Group. I feel a strong sense of loyalty to the company. They have always looked after me professionally and have been a flexible employer. It’s definitely the best company I’ve worked for.”

Jess hopes more women will consider a career in mining and at National Group. “As a kindergarten teacher, I remember spending lots of time after work preparing for class the next day. Now, I’m ordering parts for giant mining equipment at a coal mine and overseeing admin for the contract-mining operations. I’ve always been happy to step outside my ‘comfort zone’ and experience new things. For me right now, that’s life at the Moolarben mine for National Group.”