• In training

    Upskilling workers is crucial to the future of the African mining industry and companies are instituting a range of programmes to accomplish this.

    In training

    In 2015, gold mining company Harmony ensured 96% of its workforce received training, compared with 62% in 2014. Its training costs during the year amounted to ZAR371 million.

    This included support for South African-based research and development initiatives aimed at developing solutions in exploration, mining, processing, technology efficiency, beneficiation and environmental conservation. Harmony also trained 69 people in critical skills at a cost of ZAR1 million, compared to 56 people in 2014 at a cost of ZAR1.1 million.

    Employee development is pivotal to Harmony’s strategic and operational delivery, the company states in its 2015 integrated annual report. Training and development programmes include skills development, adult education and training, a bridging school, learnerships, bursaries, graduate develop-ment, talent management and supervisory and leadership development. Some 4.9% of Harmony’s payroll was spent on HR development in 2015.

    However, it’s not just Harmony. Training and upskilling is pivotal within the context of South African and global mining. A skills pool in the industry is now more important than ever.

    It’s no understatement to say that the industry is in crisis. A 2014 Deloitte report on the future of South Africa’s mining sector underscores the difficulties facing the industry, and states that the greatest task for mining companies globally and in South Africa is sustainable growth and delivering returns to their stakeholders.

    Companies face challenges to profitability due to unfavourable commodity prices and tougher mining conditions, and while commodity prices have improved since their 2008 lows, prices remain stagnant or falling.

    Firms need to be more productive to stay ahead of the game, and training is at the centre of this race.

    Mines are also increasingly moving towards mechanisation, and so the need for mechanics, machine operators, electricians and other artisans is growing.

    This means that most workers require literacy and basic computer skills to work on a mechanised mine. The need for project management and technical skills at these operations is also on the rise.

    Training and development is critical for the sustainability of mining, and South African companies are investing in employee training and development in many forms, including learnerships, bursaries, portable skills, internships and adult education.

    One of the many reasons why the provision of top-class training and development is vital is that it enhances employee safety and productivity. By also offering meaningful as well as stimulating work and opportunities for personal development, the industry is able to attract and retain the best talent.

    Along with mechanisation and innovation, development of employee skills is integral to a sustainable business. In fact, the two are very much intertwined.

    Training and upskilling is pivotal within the context of South African and global mining. A skills pool in the industry is now more important than ever

    Alice Lourens, group corporate relations manager at Impala Platinum (Implats) says that ‘technology is nothing without the people who develop, test and operate it’. The focus has to be on mastering the relationship between human and machine, she says.

    ‘To stay ahead in the highly competitive world of mining, we must innovate and automate. This requires a long-term investment in technology and a talented and well-trained workforce to develop, operate, maintain and manage our operations.’

    With the aim of developing people in a mechanised environment, Implats focuses on initiatives that address a number of things. These include a smaller, more skilful and higher-remunerated workforce; the scarcity of skills in certain areas, leveraging off the specialist contractor skills base and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

    Implats also looks at upgrading of the industry pool of maintenance operatives and operators; driving initiatives for staff requirements of future mines; exposing HR teams to new mechanised mining layouts and their staffing requirements; the optimal use of capital-intensive machinery; investigating optimal shift systems and multi- and cross-skilling of operators.

    AngloGold Ashanti also supports the development of skills across its operations and in the communities in which the company operates. The company offers full-time bursary assistance, work exposure and vacation and graduate training. Community development HR programmes including bursaries, learnerships, internships and portable skills were also implemented in 2014.

    Bursaries are offered to mining specialists in the fields of mining engineering; environmental science; metallurgy and geology; mechanical, electrical and chemical engineering; mine surveying; instrumentation and process control and safety.

    In a talk on modernisation and mechanisation in mining at the 2015 Mining Indaba, Anglo American Platinum CEO Chris Griffiths said Anglo planned to accelerate its ability to use innovation and technology to address critical challenges and ‘find safer, more efficient, environmentally friendly and sustainable ways to unlock mineral value’. That said, ‘no company could keep pace with today’s advances on its own’, he added.

    ‘As part of FutureSmart [Anglo’s approach to innovation] we’re bringing in people with different skills sets and fresh perspectives from other industries. We will also need a different approach to how we train our own employees, and as a colleague often reminds me, our employees will need to be “Xbox proficient”.’

    He added that the industry of the future would have ‘fewer direct jobs, but more skilled and better-paid ones, affording employees the opportunity to live with their families adjacent to the mine in towns that have decent infrastructure such as schools, roads, water and medical facilities’.

    Another company at the forefront of training and skills development is Gold Fields. Its South Deep mine is the only deep-level, large-scale mechanised mine in South Africa and has an expected life-of-mine of more than 70 years.

    ‘This will make it the last major gold mine standing in South Africa, as most of the other conventional gold mines have between 15 to 30 years of life left,’ says Sven Lunsche, vice-president of corporate affairs at Gold Fields.

    The skills required to bring South Deep up to full production are scarce in the South African mining sector, says Lunsche, and generally not available from the local gold industry. The skills needed can be divided into two areas – management and mechanised mining expertise.

    During 2015, South Deep identified 163 critical mining, engineering and management skills that needed to be recruited immediately. By year-end, most of these positions had been filled following a focused recruitment drive.

    In light of its extensive life-of-mine, one of South Deep’s long-term sustainability imperatives is to develop the right skills among its current employees, according to Lunsche.

    The mine urgently needs to address key operational challenges, which can only be alleviated by putting the right people in place. For example, machine availability has been identified as a major operational constraint and one that can only be tackled by upskilling Gold Fields’ artisans.

    Removing these artisans from the workplace to provide the necessary training would address the long-term issue but in the immediate-term, however, it would exacerbate the problem of machine maintenance and availability.

    Gold Fields’ solution to this challenge is co-operation with its equipment contractors, Sandvik and Aard. A two-year agreement has been signed under which all artisans and operators will be redeployed to new working areas and undergo a comprehensive artisan and operator training programme, on a rotational basis, to bring their skills up to the level required by the mine.

    While they are receiving this training, the OEM contractors will maintain the machinery used in the trackless environment. Once the two-year period is up, artisans and operators will have the opportunity to return to their original workplaces, and machine maintenance will again be managed internally. ‘This temporary, interim solution will allow us to address two critical long-term issues simultaneously,’ says Lunsche.

    A new training programme was also introduced during the year, targeting mine overseers and supervisors to ensure they have the required mechanised mining understanding and skills set. A shift supervisor course was also rolled out, following the identification of critical skills gaps among this group. ‘We are confident that these programmes will assist the underground teams with mining according to plan, which in turn will improve production and grade,’ says Lunsche.

    In 2014, Gold Fields spent ZAR113 million on training and skills development in South Africa. The Mining Qualifications Authority (MQA) – a sector education and training authority responsible for the administration of skills-development programmes for the country’s mining and minerals sector – says the industry’s replacement demand far exceeds its supply of new workers.

    According to the authority, the mining skills supply pipeline is too small – and its output too inadequate – to replace the ageing engineer-ing and artisan population, or to counter global losses. The MQA says the only solution to addressing skills shortages and replenishing depleted numbers of skilled individuals is for the sector to focus on training large numbers of new workers.

    Despite skills shortages, however, the number of new graduates in fields associated with the mining and minerals sector has grown considerably over the last 15 years, according to the MQA. This, coupled with the efforts from mining companies, is driving momentum in building a skilled, agile and evolving workforce for the mining industry of the future.

    By Tracy Melass
    Gallo Images/AFP/Stephane De Sakutin