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Opinion Piece: Involving the youth in the mining sector is key to addressing rampant unemployment rates

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By Carol Brandt, Metallurgy Training Manager at PRISMA Training Solutions, a member of the Workforce Training and Consulting Group

Youth unemployment is a longstanding issue for South Africa, and one which was made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns. The mining industry has a pivotal role to play in solving this crisis. As one of the largest economic sectors in the country, it employs many people, and additionally creates an entire value chain of peripheral services. Getting the youth involved in mining and related industries will not only benefit mines, but help to lessen youth unemployment, upskill vulnerable members of society, and contribute positively toward economic growth.

Youth unemployment an old problem

According to the Q4 2020 Quarterly Labour Force Survey from Stats SA, the percentage of young persons aged 15–34 years who were not in employment, education or training (NEET) increased by 1,7 percentage points from 40,1% in Q4: 2019, to 41,8% in Q4: 2020. This is not a new challenge, however, as a report released at the beginning of 2020 highlights: “The persistently high youth unemployment rate has long been one of the most pressing socio-economic problems in South Africa. Some of the young work-seekers are not well educated and do not possess sufficient skills and previous work experience demanded by employers in the labour market.” The high levels of unemployment create discouraged job seekers, who are unable to participate in economic activity, and therefore exacerbate existing low economic growth in the country.

Mutually beneficial

The lockdowns of 2020 also had a negative impact on the mining sector, which was forced to shut down. However, it was also one of the first industries to reopen, and has also enjoyed a commodities boom in iron, platinum and gold over the last decade. This means that the mining sector is well positioned to be an employer of choice for the youth, as well as offering mentorship and skills development programs. There are a wide variety of different careers available, from mining and metallurgy to mineral resource management, finance and administration, to name a few.

In addition, the mining industry creates a value chain beginning with the manufacture of machines and equipment, ending in the manufacture of goods from raw materials. The peripheral industries such as housing and food supply are also areas where people need to be employed. With such a vast supply chain, there are many opportunities for youth employment, especially given that a younger workforce is generally healthier and more able-bodied, which is an important factor for many mining-related tasks. Furthermore, as the use of technology increases, a younger workforce will be in a better position to use and exploit this, benefiting the mines with innovative new methods and techniques.

Working together to turn the tide

The historical method of studying prior to employment is becoming increasingly irrelevant in today’s world. To reduce unemployment and get the youth active in the labour force and the economy, we need to shift toward outcomes-based qualifications This will enable learners to develop skills while they work and earn an income. Training providers and mines also need to work together to better communicate the available opportunities and collaborate on accredited training programs through mining SETAs.

Financial resources are often the biggest barrier to entry for youth when it comes to obtaining qualifications for the job market. Being employed in the mining sector and gaining experience while completing qualifications that can take the learner from entry level through to middle management, enables learning and economic empowerment at the same time.

Training providers need to offer training solutions that develop a career path, not just a collection of unrelated short learning courses. Mines need to also focus on those career paths and on skills development in related industries such as construction and entrepreneurship.

The key is to create career opportunities for youth to learn while they earn, which will not only help to reduce youth unemployment, but benefit the mining sector and boost South Africa’s economy as well.

Opinion Piece: Simulation training reduces risk, improves safety, Covid compliance and productivity for mines

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By Jacques Farmer, Managing Director of PRISMA Training Solutions, a member of the Workforce Training and Consulting Group
March 2021

The mining industry mandates specific training across a variety of areas depending on the employee’s job description. Learning ‘on the job’ can be both hazardous and costly, but
practical experience is a requisite for using mining machinery and tools, as is ongoing learning. In a time where people are required by law to maintain a certain distance from each other, such practice is difficult to provide in person. This is where simulation training comes in. Using a combination of various simulation technologies, including virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) allows training to take place in a safe space, without the risk of infection and harm to people or damage to equipment. It also means that the trainer doesn’t have to be in close proximity with the delegates.

Danger at every turn

Mining is one of the most hazardous sectors, and it is essential to maintain the highest safety standards. This includes ensuring that all machine operators are competent to perform their duties. The challenge is to enable them to gain sufficient skills to become competent, because practicing on real, live machinery is a danger. There are so many things that could potentially go wrong and cause catastrophic damage, injury and fatalities. The equipment is also extremely costly, and damage will be expensive to repair.

To mitigate the risk to a certain degree, the instructor usually sits in the cab of the machinery with the trainee. However, with Covid-19 protocols still in place requiring 1.5m social distancing, this has become impossible. A realistic, well-designed simulator that has been calibrated to mimic the real conditions of the mine can provide a safe way for operators to ‘get the feel’ for the equipment without any of the risk. It can also be overseen by a trainer in a remote location, anywhere in the world, so training can be delivered by expert providers while maintaining social distance.

Smooth operations

In addition to allowing employees to gain their experience hours without risk, simulation training enables mining organisations to monitor and measure the performance of the employee while they are training and over time. This data can be used to identify any potential challenges, analyse trends and gain a solid picture of the skills and confidence levels of the employee. Skills that are lacking can be emphasised and ongoing improvement assured. Monitoring can also alert mines to potential problems with the performance of the
machinery itself and trends on this performance over time.

Simulation training ensures reduced downtime, increased productivity and enhanced mine safety, all of which is directly measurable. The key, however, is to ensure that it is a fully integrated component of the overall training program. The curriculum should be designed to be operations-related and specific to the individual mine – there is no generic ‘off the shelf’ solution that will fit every mine, as they are all unique in their environments, methods of operation and challenges.

Virtually real

With a realistic simulation, potential machine operators can test their skills and see if they are suited for the tasks required. For example, fear of heights and nausea are common issues when some people attempt to operate certain equipment. Simulation will identify these challenges before significant investment is made into training an employee who will not be able to perform their job.

Simulations provide a realistic experience that gives the same feeling of operating equipment, including any dangers. It also gives a realistic experience of what might happen if
the wrong decision is made, which in turn improves safety. It also enables employees to gain more experience training, without taking actual working equipment out of commission, which enhances productivity, and without burning additional fuel or causing wear and tear to equipment.

Partners in success

There is a lot of technology around simulation, but mines need to ensure that the simulation concept is customised to fit their specific needs. Simulation training should complement
theory and classroom-based training to address knowledge gaps, and learning paths and training methodologies need to be tailored to fit the target audience. This enables mines to be more effective and more productive, while improving safety and reducing downtime.

The bottom line is that a simulator must be realistic and specific. If it is not, or if it is improperly implemented, mines will not see a return on investment. However, if it is effectively designed, and mines work with an experienced training partner to integrate it into training and design the curriculum effectively, it can quite literally be a life saver.

Community development in the mining industry requires community buy-in

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By Jacques Farmer, MD at PRISMA

The recent announcement of the new Mining Charter has highlighted a number of Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) legislative changes intended to facilitate the support of surrounding communities by mining companies through skills upliftment, training and employment opportunities.

This is both necessary and commendable, however, training is the critical element to ensure that employment opportunities and careers are successfully secured by locals. Now is the time for organisations in mining and related sectors to use training to properly equip locals with the right skills to develop small businesses, foster job creation and stimulate local economies to create a mutually beneficial relationship for mines and their surrounding communities.

Local community development

The Mining Charter, read together with the Black Economic Empowerment Act Implementation Guidelines, is intended to facilitate sustainable transformation, growth and development of the mining industry, while the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act provides a detailed framework regarding local communities to ensure that the mining rights-holders contribute towards the socio-economic development of the areas in which they are operating.

These objectives are implemented through mandatory ownership requirements and social labour plans which deal with human resource development and local economic development programmes. Such social responsibility imposed on mining companies is enforced primarily by requiring applicants for mining rights to submit a social and labour plan with their application. Mining right holders must commit to investing sizeable amounts in the upliftment of employees and the local community, including:

  • A human resource development programme (covering skills development, career progression, mentorship and internships and bursaries);
  • A local economic development programme (covering infrastructure and poverty eradication projects, steps to address housing, as well as nutrition and living conditions of employees);
  • A procurement progression plan and implementation for historically disadvantaged persons (for goods, services and consumables required by the mine); and
  • Process plans to manage downscaling and retrenchment (including skills transferral).

An approved social and labour plan is a vital part of gaining approval on a mining right application, and failure to comply may result in suspension or cancellation of the right. Given the importance of such a plan, it is advisable that mining companies seek out the right training partner to ensure the success of their initiatives, from planning through to implementation.

Empowerment is a two-way conversation

However, such plans cannot be one-sided, and buy-in is required from the affected community in order to be truly effective. This requires extensive consultation with community members, particularly through unemployment forums, culminating in a bipartite agreement between the mine and the community ensuring that they can benefit from mining activities in that area in a manner of their choosing. While training is important to ensure that the mining company has local access to the skills, they need to carry out operations, not all community members are likely to want to work physically in the mines.

In many cases, community members have other ideas on how to stimulate job creation and the local economy – all they need is the training support and financial backing to make it happen. To this end, the right specialist training partner will develop new training initiatives to facilitate the community’s desire to uplift themselves on their own terms. For example, community members would like to supply materials to the mine or deliver a related service, but they lack the experience to compile a business plan. The right training partner will facilitate entrepreneurial development and assist with new venture creation, helping community members to set up ancillary businesses centred around the mine such as accommodation, catering and personal services for mine employees.

Measuring effectiveness

Here, it’s important for mining companies to seek out a training partner that focuses on more than just ticking boxes for nominal compliance in order to ensure that their investments are not wasted. Finding a company that prioritises both return on investment (ROI), as well as return on Expectation (ROE) is key.

A valuable metric for determining the success of training programs, ROE depends on participation and buy-in from both the mining company and the community in which this company operates. Training courses need to be designed to ensure that individuals take something of value away – this means looking for a partner that presents more than a one-dimensional training programme or intervention. Instead, it’s worthwhile seeking out a partner that can communicate the bigger picture and outline the career trajectory in each training sphere right down to an individual level – a partner that values ethical business practices, transparent communication and who is passionate about sustainable community development.

How is technology changing the training landscape in SA

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Technology has changed our lives in a million different ways. Modern technologies have increased our capacity to know and do things and to communicate and collaborate with others. The presence of internet itself has revolutionized the process through we access and disseminate information and training is becoming one of the biggest benefciaries of this
revolution. From tablets, educational apps to online courses, technology has changed the face of the training sector.

Technology has removed the location barrier to learning with students now able to access their learning material from the comfort of their home and this is especially important in the South African context with 35% of the population still living in rural areas. Internationally, interactive textbooks are supplementing e-learning with web-based sites that include assessments, animations, videos and other material that supplement and enhance the learning experience. Technology has transformed traditional learning methodologies by making it more engaging, fun and entertaining to learn new content. Video conferencing applications like Skype are also allowing educators the ability to stay in constant contact with their learners.

“Having access to technology means training providers can now reach learners that previously slipped through the cracks because they live in remote areas. Upskilling
learners in rural areas is crucial as training leads to job creation which will ultimately lead to a healthier economy in South Africa.” Braam Fourie says. Technology in the training sector has created an inclusive culture of learning by creating customised training material for people living with disabilities. A number of mobile applications are in the market that seek to aid these students into the mainstream by facilitating and enabling them with digital educational aids.

Fourie says, “Training Providers in South Africa still have some catching up to do when it comes to fully utilising technology in the training space. However, training with technology is one of the biggest trends in the industry at the moment and at Prisma Training Solutions we’re always looking at ways of making training more accessible and more convenient for the learner.

ACCREDITED TRAINING CAN SUPPORT GROWTH IN THE MINING INDUSTRY

The annual Investing in African Mining Indaba is an integral event for companies active in the mining industry, like Prisma Training Solutions, as it enables the industry to network and keep abreast of new trends.

This year’s Mining Indaba was once again a huge success and the perfect hunting ground for investors. According to the SABC up to 70% of this year’s registrations were investors. It’s no big secret that the South African mining industry is dependent on international investors to complete mining projects. This is positive news for South Africa’s economic development because the mining industry is central to our economy, supporting 460 000 jobs directly and another 1.4 indirectly. According to Minister of Resources Mosebenzi Zwane, over the course of 150 years, the mining industry has grown to contribute about eight percent directly to South Africa’s GDP with an estimated U.S.$2.5 trillion to U.S.$3 trillion in non-energy mineral reserves still in-situ.

During the keynote speech by Minister Zwane, there was a clear emphasis on supporting small and medium mining companies to increase job opportunities in the mining sector
which will result in the growth of the industry. However, mining companies will also need skilled employees if they want to compete and be successful. With the current skills shortage in South Africa, this could prove to be a barrier to growth. One of the most effective ways to address this skills shortage is through MQA accredited training.

Minister Zwane further explained that government believed that most job opportunities lay with small to medium companies, hence in 2017, the focus would be on the Promotion of Investment, with a special focus on junior miners.

“In our efforts to support investment in mining and beneficiation, we have a particular focus on the growth and promotion of small and medium sized enterprises. We are of the form view that a new era of junior to mid-tier sized mines is upon us,” he said. Prisma Training Solutions is perfectly equipped to facilitate these job opportunities, address the skills shortage in South Africa and grow the mining industry through our MQA accredited training programmes. Our training programmes are designed to increase the productivity and effciency of mines whilst maintaining best practice standards to ensure the safety of miners.