South Africa’s mining sector needs to consolidate its current youth development initiatives to ensure meaningful upliftment of the country’s youth, says Chamber of Mines (CoM) of South Africa skills development head Mustak Ally.
The pooling of resources will provide a more focused and centralised platform for youth development in the local mining industry, but this must be done in conjunction with mining houses, government and organised labour, he states.
Ally points out that the Skills Development Act, the Skills Levy Act and the National Skills Development Strategy, along with the yearly performance plans and strategies of the respective sector education and training authorities (Setas), are important mechanisms for skills advancement.
The Seta responsible for mining education is the Mining Qualifications Authority (MQA), with members of the CoM serving on its board. Consequently, chamber members have a say in the strategy that the MQA implements, he adds.
Much of the MQA’s focus is on education, training and development, with special emphasis on youth development. “Examples of this include the way the MQA, along with mining companies, funds students enrolled at technical and vocational colleges and universities,” Ally states.
He points out that, over the past five years, about 18 000 students have been supported through the MQA and mining companies’ education and training initiatives to acquire much-needed mining skills.
Despite the “bleak” short- to medium- term prospects for the South African economy, Ally says, 24 000 students will receive assistance to develop themselves in the local mining sector through bursaries and internship programmes over the next five years.
Further, Ally notes that, while there are no specific laws in South Africa regarding the development of youth in mining, there are broad generic policies focused on the development of youth in business, such as the Youth Employment Accord. The accord sets out the joint commitment between government and business to prioritise youth employment and skills development, and is one in a series of social pacts intended to help achieve the New Growth Path goal of creating five-million new jobs by 2020.
Ally points out that CoM members have their own dedicated programmes focused on youth upskilling and empowerment.
He remarks that the chamber is in the process of establishing its own training and development programme for five mining graduates across all mining disciplines, including engineering, geology and metallurgy. The programme will run for two years, during which time the graduates will work with CoM industry experts to gain exposure to the realities of the sector and industry-relevant work experience.
Ally comments that the CoM is also exploring ways in which it can provide students with bursaries, in addition to the ones that are offered to students by its members.
Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM) Young Professionals Council (YPC) chairperson and University of Johannesburg Department of Mining Engineering lecturer Tshepo Mmola highlights that the council has three working groups that collectively develop youth in the mining industry.
He tells Mining Weekly that the Education Working Group holds regular workshops at universities nationwide to develop good study habits, as well as workshops on work readiness. The work readiness aspect is supplemented by a yearly career and leadership conference that enables industry to interact with final-year students in preparation for their entry into the sector.
Mmola elaborates that the Education Working Group is managed by the students, under the supervision of senior YPC members, thus enabling them to develop strong leadership skills.
“The YPC actively raises awareness to drive donations to the Scholarship Trust Fund, which supports university students in mining and metallurgy.”
Further, the YPC also has a Career Guidance Working Group, which is primarily focused on developing youth after they graduate from university. The first point of reference is the unemployment database, which the council uses to disseminate notices of opportunities to unemployed graduates.
He stresses that mentorship is critical to professional development, which is why the YPC facilitates one-on-one mentoring through its mentoring programme, pairing young professionals with seasoned professionals.
“We also ensure that young professionals broaden their knowledge base by holding technical presentations and conferences [they can attend]. These also provide great opportunity for them to grow their professional network,” Mmola highlights.
Lastly, the YPC’s Enterprise Working Group, through a partnership with a nongovernmental organisation, provides training for early-stage startups on how to turn their ideas into viable business propositions.
Mmola comments that this work is supported by entrepreneurship in mining forums, which bring young entrepreneurs, small business owners and the big mining houses together to explore business opportunities.
Ally points out that one of the most signifi- cant challenges for youth in mining is the current weak state of the South African economy, as well as “the heavily constrained state of the local mining sector”.
He highlights that the absence of economic growth is hampering government’s and industry’s ability to provide new opportunities for young people seeking to enter and progress in the sector.
Moreover, in terms of education and training in the postschool education training system, quality standards have become an issue. Ally comments that this is an area of concern and is something that the CoM’s members are continually providing input on through forums such as the MQA, the National Skills Authority and other national and sectoral structures.
Ally says it is envisaged that these engagements will lead to a “high-quality system” that can improve the throughput rates at various institutions of learning, thereby reducing the extent of the loss of investment.
“Other challenges include ensuring that the industry attracts the best and brightest minds and that they are driven to take full advantage of the existing opportunities,” he remarks.
Additionally, Mmola says some challenges for the youth entering the industry include inadequate vacation work or practical training opportunities available, as practical experience or exposure is a requirement to complete their studies; the low number of job vacancies for recently qualified graduates; and the reduction in funding for education by industry.
He notes that the poor quality or even lack of graduate development programmes (GDPs) is another barrier hampering progress for the youth in industry.
“The SAIMM has a best practice guideline for GDPs, which a lot of companies do not meet and, if they do, . . . they do not manage them effectively,” asserts Mmola.
Other challenges he raises include the state and administration of government certificates of competence, which Mmola says have been “poorly administered” and “retard the progress of youth in mining”, and the lack of adequate exposure to the different aspects of the engineering profession required to meet the Engineering Council of South Africa’s standards for professional registration.
A Young Professional in Mining
Despite the challenges that young people face, several youths are making headway in the sector. Mining Weekly spoke with one such person, Olebogeng Sentsho, who is operations head at Yeabo Mining.
Yeabo Mining is a 100% black-women-owned mining enterprise that specialises in tailings processing, treatment, waste management and sustainable mining operations in South Africa.
Sentsho, 30, entered the mining industry when she was 26, after transitioning from a career in investment analysis. She says mining came to her purely by chance.
“I was working for an investment company as an analyst at the time. A proposal for a tailings plant came across my desk for analysis and review. The business case was weak, so I requested permission to amend it and resubmit. The originators of the business case were so impressed with the work I had done, they asked me to become a partner.
“A joint venture was formed and that was my first taste of mining. I registered Yeabo Mining in 2014 to further my ambitions in mining. I subsequently left my job and went in full pursuit of the mining dream,” she recounts.
Sentsho emphasises that mining is an “extreme sport”, as access to markets, funding and the age-old practice of gatekeeping will always be serious challenges for the youth in mining.
She points out that companies are facing a “new beast”, as the mining downturn has forced mines to stop procuring from smaller businesses and to procure only from their large suppliers with the bigger contracts. “They have decided to close ranks and lock us out to ‘save money’, as they say.”
Nonetheless, she enthuses that, despite her company being a small operation that employs 23 people, it has managed to secure some large contracts and has secured R22-million in contracts with assets to the value of R1.8-million.
Advice to Industry Players
Sentsho remarks that the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) needs to “radicalise” its approach towards the evolution of mining.
“Radicalising does not mean taking up arms or bullying the mining houses; radicalising means sticking to their guns and not making suggestions regarding procurement transformation.
“The regulator must lobby its Minister to legislate on behalf of [youth-run] businesses and enforce that legislation with an iron fist,” she explains.
Further, Sentsho believes that mining houses should be compelled to unbundle key contracts and that it should be made compulsory for them to include youth-owned businesses in the procurement of key commodities.
She says this process should be monitored and documented, and noncompliance must result in fines and possibly the revocation of mining licences. “I appeal to [youth-run-] business owners to step up their pedigree and use the opportunity by upskilling themselves and ensuring that they offer better services that are true value for money,” Sentsho concludes.
The DMR was approached by Mining Weekly to provide input, but declined to comment.