Mining companies operating in Africa need to think innovatively about how to reach their workforces and consider different access and communication models to ensure healthy and effective employee relations that can significantly improve their bottom lines, says communications provider Wyzetalk CEO Gysbert Kappers.
“While mining companies continue to be pressured by the uncertainty that looms over the global economy and other factors that influence profits, market economies and workforce relations, the industry remains committed to finding better ways of working. We are seeing a strong focus on employees, communities and investing in technology that contributes towards empowerment, inclusivity and sustainability in mining operations.”
Kappers notes that mining in Africa is an increasingly complex task influenced by rising energy costs, sociopolitical risks, threats of nationalisation, procurement issues and fluctuating demand. These challenges must, moreover, be managed alongside demand for greater efficiency, more productive workers, an exemplary safety record and effective cost management. As a result, local innovation and global best practice are being combined as companies turn to digital technologies to streamline their business models.
“While there will always be external influences impacting on the mining operating environment, a key area that is within a company’s control is its employee relations. How much strife could be avoided if we fixed this channel with a communication system that really works?” asks Kappers.
Although mobile phones are prolific across Africa, providing an economic channel for direct, two-way communication, Kappers points out that communication with employees “at the coalface” on mines is still often one-way, directed through team leaders and outdated communication channels such as notice boards, briefs and suggestion boxes.
“Mines are grappling with the issue of finding ways to communicate transparently and successfully with all their workers on a myriad of issues such as health and safety, training, work opportunities and security. They need to combine modern communication tools with carefully crafted strategies to find new ways of connecting with, informing and collaborating with employees to, ultimately, innovate through an engaged workforce.”
Kappers notes that employee- related aspects often fall by the wayside when efficiency and cost reduction become the core focus of a business, warning that, when following this approach, one of the biggest risks is disengaging its workforce. “We firmly believe that improving the workplace experience and showing employees that they’re valued can [help] improve morale and results . . . Sharing valuable information and educating employees will ensure more productivity and less risk, which goes a long way towards attracting investment, joint opportunities and capital access.”
In line with this, Wyzetalk is focused on continually improving and enhancing its technology and professional services solution, which aims to address in-house engagement issues that mining companies face. The solution includes mobile, unstructured supplementary service data and cellphone application technologies that enable businesses to engage with their workforce, no matter what mobile device they use. The solution can also be customised according to client specifications.
The solution allows for critical information to be broadcast to all employees, or for targeted content and messages to be distributed within the workforce. Campaigns and surveys are also made possible. Perhaps most importantly, Kappers notes, this platform also ensures that employee feedback can be received by decision-makers, at no cost to employees, who may also remain anonymous when reporting sensitive issues. “It’s an all-in-one enterprise mobile ecosystem where, ultimately, we put real-time information at the fingertips of the business to help everyone make better decisions.”
The Wyzetalk team developed the platform in Stellenbosch in 2013 and has since seen increased production, safety, morale and overall trust in all the businesses where this solution has been implemented. Kappers highlights that market response has been positive from organisations that have seen much greater returns than expected, based on employee feedback.
Kappers notes that continual communication with mine employees on safety campaigns has been particularly effective, resulting in significantly improved safety standards being upheld across the board, decreasing preventable fatalities. With wide-scale retrenchments in the African mining industry, Wyzetalk is also working on campaigns with various mining houses to educate employees on how to manage their money, avoid retrenchment package scammers and advise them on counselling available to help them and their families navigate this difficult period.
Wyzetalk is servicing clients in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Lesotho and Swaziland.