In June this year, the Chamber of Mines released its latest Facts and Figures report overviewing the South African mining industry. Immersed in the statistics are some important details. Mining was responsible for 457 698 direct jobs in 2016, while those workers earned ZAR120 billion in wages and supported about 4.5 million dependants.
Mining companies employed nearly 8% of all private sector labour in the country. Indirectly, hundreds of thousands of other workers in industries such as engineering, construction and logistics rely on mining as sustenance to provide for their jobs. Let those figures sink in for a while. Millions of people in the country depend on mining for a living. There’s no denying the sector is facing headwinds. As the chamber put it, 2016 was ‘a difficult year’. Around 40 000 direct jobs were lost from the beginning of 2015 to the end of last year. Yet the industry is still a major employer and revenue generator in six of South Africa’s nine provinces.
Like almost all sectors, mining is under pressure to find skilled young people to enter the workforce. Investment in youth development and training has become critical for the sector’s sustainability. In response, in 2015 alone the industry ploughed about ZAR5 billion into skills generation. From bursaries for engineering students, to internships for artisans, thousands of new positions are being created.
As the sector adjusts to the influences of technology in particular, these youngsters will become the backbone – and leaders – of the workforce of tomorrow. Their energy and vision are vital to ensure mining continues to provide a pivotal element of the economy.