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More than a voice: Why Rio loves the sound of Cheyenne

David Prestipino -

For an electrical apprentice at Rio Tinto's flagship rail operation in WA's North West, Cheyenne Simmons is making a lot of noise... and people are taking notice.

Ms Simmons, who's mother is a Noongar Yamatji woman and father of Egyptian decent who lived in Karratha, has shown a handy knack helping fine-tune machinery that drives the iron ore giant's rail operations in the Pilbara, and a deeply-rooteed passion for music.

Her vocals often snap the dour static soundscape that dominates the rail yard, much to the delight of her Rolling Stock Maintenance team at the massive 7Mile operation in Karratha.

Sometimes she'll arrive for a shift with PPE in one hand, pink boombox blaring in the other.

"I'm out there, I'm pretty keen, so usually when I start the day I'm very enthusiastic and if I don't have any work on with my tradie, I'll go and see if anyone else needs help," she said.

Ms Simmons is clearly making the right choices at Rio Tinto Iron Ore, which named her 2023 Apprentice of the Year from more than 250 apprentices across the business, 30 per cent of whom are Indigenous and 36 per cent women.

While Ms Simmons is a star on the rise, this isn't her first rodeo with Rio Tinto, spending the past nine years on the Dampier Peninsula as a safety officer at its ports hub.

"I had to change my headspace when I started, having worked at Rio for nine years up to that point, to 'okay I'm an apprentice now, I'm in a learning role, I'm not a veteran in the field kind of thing' ... I had to adjust to kind of thinking that way," she said.

While she's no new kid on the block, the 32-year-old is treating this career change with open eyes and a chance to hone her development and skillset.

"Every crew I've worked on has been awesome... the nerves, you go 'oh my gosh I have to meet new people' but so far so good, it's worked out really well," she said.

"I definitely will be staying at Rio... I'm not sure exactly where, this job gets hard but the people are amazing, so they make you want to get up every day and come to work."

Boombox aside, music is always close to heart and mind for Ms Simmons, who compared the complexities of her apprenticeship role as akin to making music.

"Every thing about music I try to apply it to work ... music isn't just like, you look at a song and you're like 'oh they just made a song,'" she said.

"They went through all the processes too; they found a note, which made another note, which makes a melody which makes the harmony, and then that makes the song, so I try to apply that to my apprenticeship.

"I'm not just going to think, 'oh I'm an electrician' after one year and think it's the most beautiful song you've ever heard.

"It takes work, and every few years I find myself getting closer to that song being completed."

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