Education development organisation, the South African Graduates Development Association (Sagda), will focus on skills development and a new human capital development strategy at this year’s mining industry think-tank, the Mining Lekgotla, says Sagda CEO Thamsanqa Maqubela.
“Unemployed graduates in South Africa is a problem and Sagda aims to work with mining companies to employ them and provide them with the necessary experience.
“The current programme of skills devel-opment in the mining industry is not working, as numerous graduates are unemployed, many of whom have metallurgical qualifications,” says Maqubela, adding that this practice has had limited success, as a high level of education is a small component of skills development.
He notes that there is a bias in favour of university students, as they receive funding more easily than students from technical institutions and colleges. The mining sector has been neglecting a bigger portion of talent, as there is a bias towards awarding bursaries to the top ten or top five academic achievers at a university to enable them to continue studying.
“There needs to be a proportionate selec-tion from the middle and from the bottom range of academic achievers, as well as from different institutions. This is because top achievers are easily poachable by other com- panies and academic success is not a clear indicator of future career success,” Maqubela notes.
This represents a problem for mining com- panies that invest heavily in individuals who will possibly not remain at a company long enough to pass on their skills to future personnel.
Further, he states that, to achieve its beneficiation targets, the South African mining industry needs to rethink strategies regarding skills development and promote a strategy of human capital development that focuses on competency and skills rather than qualifications.
According to the Department of Mineral Resource’s ‘A Beneficiation Strategy for the Minerals Industry of South Africa’ report, published in July 2011, South Africa’s bene-ficiation strategy is associated with a national industrialisation programme that aims to increase the quantity and quality of exports, as well as the promotion of job creation and the diversification of the economy.
“The human capital development strategy is a pipeline approach that requires awareness of the mining sector. Sagda aims to establish this at high school level to change the per-ception that mining work is limited to under- ground physical labour. The plan is to inform young people of potential career choices early during their schooling and have those who want to enter the mining industry include sub- jects necessary for the industry such a mathe- matics and science,” Maqubela continues.
He notes that many schoolchildren choose to take mathematics and science but are unable to continue with these subjects, as there is a shortage of quality mathematics and science teachers in South Africa.
This, therefore, limits the number of people who progress to higher education institutions to obtain mining- and mineral-related qualifications.
Also, mining companies are investing in mentoring and coaching students to whom they have awarded bursaries by exposing them to the working environment through internship programmes. However, Maqubela says that the number of individuals involved in such programmes is too small.
Another strategy Maqubela suggests is that mining companies adopt recognition of prior learning (RPL) for their skills development programmes. This involves the retention of skilled and experienced workers who can pass their skills and knowledge on to the next generation of mineworkers.
“In South Africa, there was a large num-ber of migrant workers from the former Bantustan regions, such as Bophuthatswana, who were knowledgeable and had an under-standing of what the mining sector was about, but they were not retained and their skills were lost to the mining industry,” he says.
Owing to the lack of skilled personnel in South Africa, mining companies are import- ing specialists from around the world. Maqubela says this is not sustainable and will not assist South Africa in reaching its beneficiation targets.
However, he admits that, although inter-national experts can assist with innovation, it depends on how long they remain in the coun-try, as passing on expertise takes a long time.
Maqubela also states that the economic slowdown is creating a favourable environ-ment to source people from abroad for skills development and to invest in human capital development, as the industry focus is no longer on commodities but on adding value.
Further, he says mining companies should implement more in-house training pro-grammes.
“During apartheid, a lot of money was made available for mining companies to train their employees. Currently, there is very little money available for training and invest-ments need to be made on the same level as that of the past,” notes Maqubela.
He says the problem is that there are many academies in the mining sector, but there is a lack in quantity as well as quality staff, compared with the training personnel of the past.
“South Africa needs to go beyond being a commodity-producing economy to add more value to the mining industry. This will need more than just mining engineers, safety officers, drillers or mining ventilators.
“Asking the question of how to add value to commodities once a year at the Mining Lekgotla is not enough,” says Maqubela.
He believes that mining countries, such as Canada, Australia and China, perform better than South Africa because they are investing in skills development beyond the required qualifications and that, through a new human capital strategy, South Africa can become the leading mining nation in the world.
One of the major themes at this year’s Mining Lekgotla is that of transformation, which Maqubela believes should not focus solely on transforming the racial profile of the mining industry of South Africa.
“There are five areas that will propel trans-formation in the mining industry, beginning with transforming the racial profile, changing the focus on academic achievement, investing in in-house training programmes to develop more skilled workers, ensuring that the min- ing industry is inclusive and that all stake-holders in the industry are able to attain a shared profit and, to consolidate the gains in the sector and achieve an implementable
beneficiation strategy,” he concludes.