Mining is looking for skills – NOW!

 After the Mining Expo in Windhoek last week, it is clear that investment in a handful of activities that serve this sector is increasing significantly.

In fact, most of the mines are in the design and development stage, where the real money is spent.

 The logic is likewise that the estimated mining workforce in Namibia will grow. According to the Chamber of Mines, the total amount of workers of all categories is now about 15,000. The rest are of course contractors who deliver a variety of projects for mines. In both of these sub-industries the numbers will increase sharply as mining gains traction.

 The question is; Namibia has enough well-trained personnel to respond to this explosion of opportunity.

 The answer is of course no. At no level, from senior management to clerks and laborers, are there enough workers and besides, they are not properly trained for the right positions in all cases.

 This probably means that a situation of the best is made for position appointments and that the new mines drain the existing pool of workers.

New entrants will enter the industry at an unprecedented rate and these people will need to be trained for specific purposes. Namibia’s 3 million people are young, poorly educated, many are pensioners and have a preference for office jobs when their training allows it.

 Besides, South Africa – and even Botswana – with a more established and organized mining sector, draws many miners (to identify a collective) of Namibians away from home. The big city’s light syndrome.

 In short, Namibia needs trained workers to stimulate its mining development and feed all its consequences.

 This necessarily impacts in labor terms on every other facet of the economy. Today’s farm worker with a specific qualification becomes tomorrow’s miner if he can develop the training and skills for it. Simply about money and opportunity.

 This brings the dilemma of training and education, skill development and the so-called customization of the workforce within the Fourth Industrial Revolution strongly to the fore.

Although the mines are generally large investors in education and training, they are not its main agents. They pay for skill and concentrate on their main activity namely; minerals and metals extraction and pay good money for the process to get the best returns for investors.

 That’s why good project management is cardinal, rarely how the management models are put together.

 To get an arm’s length away from the politicking around labor unions, party politics, endless labor unrest, housing workers away from mine sites, nutritional needs, security situations, supply needs and whatever, the architecture of a typical design is done in smaller homogenous functional service groups among contractors and possibly regrouped under many professional consulting companies that can manage a multitude of projects on behalf of the mines per contract. The TCL/De Beers models of old just don’t work well anymore. 

Consultants have become a profession. It’s just highly specialized and in high demand and keeps mining happening. So what is the point: Namibia has too few “skills” for the mining and consequent industrial development that is developing before our eyes. Legislation on labor and immigration and higher and tertiary skills development will need to be drastically addressed, Namibians will need to embrace every good season to produce good quality food fully, and every inch of infrastructure to back up industry needs to be developed at speed by people with experience and the ability to see over a hump and see far over the heads of short-sighted politicians. This is how Namibia cannot cope with its “skills deficit”.