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Consultancy emphasises the role of employees as mines modernise

8th October 2021

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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To reap the full benefits of mining modernisation in South Africa, the industry needs to start with its people rather than the technologies, says business consulting firm OIM Consulting MD Arjen de Bruin.

Mining companies are positively embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution in South Africa; however, the sector’s transformation cannot be reliant on mechanisation and digitalisation alone and, without a holistic approach, there can be no sustainability.

Discussing modernisation in the mining industry, De Bruin says mechanisation and modernisation are two different things and, to effectively ‘modernise’, there is a need to align the organisation to the mechanisation strategy.

“Mechanisation, which is essentially the use of machinery in mining to modernise the sector, has been applauded for creating a safer working environment and boosting output,” he says, noting that the modernisation of mining operations has long been believed to have the potential to improve the competitiveness, health and safety, productivity and profitability of the mining industry.

“In my line of work, we engage with a large number of mines. All of them are mechanised, yet even with all this machinery and automation, our clients complain of ongoing inefficiency. Anecdotal feedback suggests that, while financial targets are being achieved thanks to the commodity boom, operational targets are not met anywhere near as consistently.”

In many cases, these targets are set up to reflect the current state of operations and could be exponentially improved should the lingering inefficiencies be resolved.

Sustainable, holistic modernisation means that organisational and cultural hurdles are addressed and overcome.

“As specialist consultants within the mining arena, we have found that even when change management programmes are in place, the focus is on the implementation of the technology, not on breeding a healthy organisational culture.”

New roles need to be defined with responsibilities, scorecards need to be created to provide a clear understanding of deliverables and accountability, the relevant competences must be identified and individuals who meet these requirements need to be appointed.

“Workforce morale is directly linked to leadership and the supervisor is the most effective tool in your arsenal in ensuring that you deliver on your targets. They are the link between senior leadership and the workforce. They are the hands of your strategy,” De Bruin comments.

In addition, not only is employee engagement required but also the involvement of other stakeholders, including suppliers and impacted communities, as well as a holistic consideration of all factors, such as environmental concerns, to ensure success.

“New technology will outpace organisational change every time and thus mechanisation, in many cases, could be considered the ‘easy’ bit,” he says.

While concerns have been raised over the potential displacement of a significant portion of the labourforce, overall, there is support for mechanisation in mines among the various stakeholders, noting the social economic and health and safety benefits of mechanisation.

Mechanisation and modernisation are also viewed as an opportunity for employees to reskill and improve operations and quality of life.

“Unlike a machine, human beings respond in unpredictable ways. True modernisation means getting your people on board and gearing the organisation towards a new way of working. You are building for the future, so when the commodity cycle is down, you will be resilient enough to weather the storm,” he says.

The adoption of mechanisation and digitalisation has been acknowledged as having played a role in the sector’s upward trajectory after a crippling hard lockdown last year.

The latest figures from Statistics South Africa have revealed that, in July 2021, there was a 10.3% year-on-year increase in mining production which has attributed to higher commodity prices and the recovery in the global economy, he says.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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