From red dust to green pastures – mentoring across the country
The red dust of the North-West iron ore town of Port Hedland is a long way from the pastures of Hamilton in Victoria but an airport mentoring program has bridged the continent-spanning distance.
It’s a program that Southern Grampians Shire Council Asset Coordinator Mary Irwin and Port Hedland International Airport General Manager Rod Evans have found enjoyable and valuable.
The Australian Airports Association hosted the program in 2019-20 to support professional growth and development, pairing airport professionals with experienced mentors for 12 months.
The idea was to contribute to the future success of the industry by building leadership skills and the roster of participants involved airports ranging from “the big four” to smaller regional operators such as the Southern Grampians Shire Council.
In the case of Evans and Irwin, the scheme partnered an industry veteran with a mentee who had done marketing work with an airport but had little operational experience.
Evans had benefited from mentoring when he began his airport career in 1986 and knew the value of working with an experienced hand.
A long career had seen him working in various types of airports ranging from the North-West ports of Newman, Broome and Port Hedland to Parafield, Dubbo, Kalgoorlie, Geraldton and Busselton.
A job he had particularly enjoyed while working in Broome was helping the Djarindjin Aboriginal Corporation set up helicopter refuelling operations in The Dampier Peninsula, about 170km north of Broome.
The award-winning operation now employs more than 20 indigenous workers serving helicopters travelling to oil and gas projects in the Browse basin.
“I really enjoyed that so when the opportunity came to do something further afield I was happy to oblige,” Evans says about his decision to join the program.
“It’s the ability, as I see it from the mentor’s perspective, to give back and to be able to provide options and talk to people about why the aviation industry does things,” he says, noting that his long career can provide a historical view of why things operate the way they do.
“From a mentee’s perspective, it’s about asking questions. I use past experience to describe how I’ve done a particular thing or the outcome I had when I pressed this button.”
Irwin has been working with local government for a decade and been at Southern Grampians Shire Council for five years.
She was part of the team involved in the upgrade project that won Hamilton Airport the AAA’s 2016 Small Regional Aerodrome of the Year award but had worked in marketing rather than operations.
She describes the mentoring by Evans as invaluable in her role as the council’s asset coordinator.
She says the two scheduled their conversations to take into account the time difference and Evans came back quickly and was helpful with all her queries.
“I came into it with very little knowledge of anything to do operationally with the airport and he walked me through everything. It was fantastic,” she says.
“Without that opportunity of mentoring, it would have taken me months to get up to speed but after a few conversations with Rod, I felt a lot more confident in what I was doing.
“He was just open and willing to share everything.
“I got so much more out of it than I ever thought would happen. It was fantastic. They definitely paired us up really well.”
Evans also says the opportunity helped overcome the tyranny of distance.
“Our industry’s very isolated,” he says. “We get together a couple of times a year, so the ability to mentor somebody from somewhere else presents a difficulty.
“But doing it this way is great. Who would have thought somebody from the Southern Grampians would be talking to an old feller like me sitting in Port Hedland?
“It’s the complete opposite in all possible ways but we’ve come together and I’ve enjoyed it.
“When I first started, I got lucky with a couple of people who took me under their wing and I have one or two people that I still call. I think having people you can call on is really important.”
The airports that took place in the program were:
Mentees: Adelaide Airport, Brisbane Airport, Cairns Airport, Darwin Airport, Gold Coast Airport, Karratha Airport, Longreach Airport, Mackay Airport, Melbourne Airport, Mount Gambier Airport, Newcastle Airport, Port Hedland International Airport, Shire of East Pilbara, Southern Grampian Shire Council, Sunshine Coast Council, Sydney Airport.
Mentors: Adelaide Airport, Avisure, Brisbane Airport, Cairns Airport, Gold Coast Airport, Hobart Airport, Landrum & Brown, Maresa, Melbourne Airport, Mott MacDonald, Port Hedland International Airport, Randl, Resource Co-ordination Partnership, Sunshine Coast Airport, To70, Western Sydney Airport.
By Steve Creedy
About Steve Creedy
An award-winning journalist, Steve began covering aviation in the United States in the early nineties before returning to Australia later that decade and editing The Australian’s aviation section for 17 years. He is editor of Airline Ratings and has co-authored books on industry initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.
Steve has joined the AAA to write interesting and informative editorial on the aviation industry.