Journey with Micah Skene from Chef to Refinery Operator

Our People

May 30, 2019


Micah Skene made the transition from pastry chef to refinery operator at Cleanaway after 15 years in the food industry. Find out which three skills set him up to make the switch.

Micah traveled from Kurri Kurri, NSW, to Broome, WA, when he was 18 to live with his sister. This is where he started in the food industry, supplying baked goods to the remote area.

“After 15 years of constant night shifts and working six days a week, the bakery I was working at had to close due to financial reasons. So I had a big decision to make.” says Micah of the turning point in his career.

Micah decided to do a complete 180° and applied for a position at a recycling facility in Thornton. After seven years in that position, Micah applied for an operator position at Cleanaway’s Rutherford Refinery where he just celebrated his fifth anniversary.

Transitioning from the food industry to resource recovery

When asked about the similarities between the two industries, Micah highlighted three key skills he was able to transfer to his role at Cleanaway – attention-to-detail, good customer service and ability to work as a team.

“The food industry is a lot like recycling when it comes to having an eye for detail, producing great products and giving great customer service. If you get a bad review it can affect your bottomline – at the Rutherford Refinery we are all proud of the great products we produce and the customer satisfaction we achieve. This is only achievable because of the feed stock we receive from Wetherill Park and Narangba. We all make a great team!”

The transition from food to the waste industry was not without its challenges.

“The biggest challenge for me was going from a small workforce of five people to a much bigger one. However, I have found it so much easier to find the resources to answer questions I’ve had about my role, whereas in the bakery if you had an issue with production you just had to wing it and hope it worked!

“But I do miss the smell of fresh baked goods!” adds Micah with a laugh.

A day in the life of a refinery operator

At Cleanaway’s Rutherford Refinery, used oil is recycled and turned into clean base oil so that it can be used again and again. It is one of two Cleanaway resource recovery facilities that has achieved Category 1 status under Australia’s Product Stewardship for Oil (PSO) program.

As Refinery Operator, Micah is tasked with keeping machines in the plant running smoothly. His job includes operating and maintaining equipment, and evaluating the system for safety and efficiency.

“We ensure the plant is operating safely and efficiently, we will take regular samples and conduct tests to ensure that our product is within specifications,” Micah says.

“The great thing about this role is that no two days are the same, the plant will always have you thinking and problem-solving as it deals with feed variances and different product streams.”

As a five-year veteran at the Rutherford Refinery, Micah is well-versed with the ins and outs of the facility.

“A typical shift for us lasts 12 hours, be it day or night. My team mates and I start work on a rotating roster, alternating between two roles – the inside control room operator or the outside one. The inside operator is tasked with monitoring the refinery control panel and communicating with outside operators about any changes that need to happen outside. He will also fill out KPI and tank log reports, operate the weigh bridge and is considered the key contact person for the refinery.”

“The role of the outside operator on the other hand, involves taking oil and water samples, attending the load bay, ensuring everything is in order while also maintaining the refinery grounds.”

When asked about his most challenging experience at Cleanaway, Micah had this story to share:

“Just recently we had a blockage in pipe work which really threw a spanner in the works,” he reveals. “But we teamed up and we were able to narrow down where the blockage was, get the plant in a safe state for repairs to take place and then get it back online as soon as possible.”

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