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AMN - Sustainability an opportunity to close skills gap – comment by Yolanda Torrisi

Yol headshot May 2011

The success of miners, explorers and developers across Africa hinges on the capacity of their teams. Teams made up of local and international workers need a good mix of skills to move things forward. A capable team player with good knowledge, skills and abilities can immeasurably improve the effectiveness of a team.

But how do we go about improving the capacity of whole teams or enhancing local worker pools?

The ever-present problem of how to address skills gaps in the mining industry is an important question to tackle across the continent. Each project a miner or developer takes on board is an opportunity for local communities to enhance their skill sets. Closing skills gaps is a good goal but it has a wider commercial purpose.

When we give workers the skills, they need to contribute to a team they can then improve the team’s likelihood of success by drawing on their local knowledge, skills and abilities — and their networks. By closing the skills gap, workers’ knowledge, skills and abilities can be used to progress projects. By addressing skills gaps in local worker pools, not only can projects move forward across the continent, but better success can be achieved and the bottom line improved.

Sustainability efforts, including renewable energy, is one area where local skills-building could be achieved to benefit companies and communities. While fully-automated mine efforts are being introduced, sustainability efforts can raise the bar and set a new benchmark for skills acquisition and the professionalisation of Africa’s mining industry.

Moore Stephens consulting network Africa Advisory director Gareth Pollit has highlighted jobs will be created for a series of green technology service sectors with the industry’s push towards sustainability.

These jobs are in transport and energy generation, from power to cooling, to air-conditioning and water purification. Workers will need to measure their performance and report on their successes for shareholders and, potentially, government.

New Zimbabwe School of Mines (ZSM) chief executive officer Payne Kupfuwa has rightly highlighted that there is an overall “pervasive skills and knowledge gap” in the industry.

Geological mapping, rock mechanics, assaying, minerals evaluation, resource estimation are all skills that Africa’s institutions can help build up and provide in local worker pools.

Computer skills, data management and marketing — so-called white-collar skills — and analytical work like research and development need skilled workers. So do contract negotiation efforts, human resources, financial services and legal department teams.

It is time for the industry to prioritise training and worker education in forward plans.

Projects provide jobs, jobs back families and add support for communities. Let’s aim to draw on the knowledge, skills and abilities of our workers by closing skills gaps and advancing our industry to build lasting change on the continent to benefit our companies and communities.

- Yolanda Torrisi is Chairperson of The African Mining Network and comments on African mining issues and the growing global interest in the continent. Contact: yolanda@yolandatorrisi.com