Zambia affected by global mining-skills crunch

World’s mines battle to attract skilled, experienced people.

The global mining industry is experiencing its most serious skills shortage in decades, and this is having major ramifications on mining countries around the world – including Zambia.

That’s according to a report released today by the Chamber of Mines, entitled Searching for Talent – Skills and Employment in the Global Mining Industry. It is based on interviews conducted with a cross-section of management and employees at mines in Zambia, South Africa and Mauritania.

The immediate effect is that mines in Zambia and other countries are finding it increasingly difficult not just to attract skilled, experienced people, but also to retain them.

“There was a time when you could easily find four or five people to fill a high-level position,” says Johan Jansen, CEO of Mopani Copper Mines, quoted in the report. “Now you battle to find just one.”

Human Resources managers from Mopani, Barrick Lumwana Mine and First Quantum Minerals’ Kansanshi Mine all have stories to tell of the “untimely departure” of promising Zambian mining graduates with several years of experience, often under the mentorship of a seasoned expatriate.

“Just as they are ripe and ready to assume a senior position with more responsibility, they are lured away with a more interesting or lucrative offer,” the report says.

The skills most in demand across the global mining industry as a result of the talent shortage are those that are critical to the daily operation of the mines. They are largely technical, and are the domain of people like engineers, geologists, metallurgists, technicians, mechanics and artisans.

The report cites three major reasons for the global shortage of high-level mining skills. One: the massive rise in global mineral production over the past 20 years – mainly to meet rising demand in China – has drained much of the world’s mining talent pool.

Two: the global mining industry is experiencing its biggest retirement wave in many decades, with up to half of the people in key skill categories nearing retirement. In Canada, one of the world’s largest mining countries, some 49 000 people will be needed in the next decade to replace retiring workers, according to the country’s Mining Industry Human Resources Council.

Three: harsh working conditions, remote locations and long working hours mean mining is no longer as attractive a career option as it once was.  “The truth is there are more attractive industries out there for mining graduates, with better work-life balance,” says Sam Ash, General Manager at Barrick Lumwana mine, quoted in the report.

The shortage has made skilled, experienced people particularly valuable and mobile. The report shows how these people – or expats, as they are often referred to – can be found working in mines all over the world. They also include many Zambians: the report profiles Zambian expats who have worked in mining companies in Australia, South Africa, Finland, Mali, Sudan and Mauritania.

The urgency of the skills shortage has seen a renewed emphasis on training in the world’s mining companies, the report says. It takes the form of scholarships, coaching, mentoring, exposure to international mines and formal skills-transfer programmes with expatriates.

The skills shortage has also highlighted the importance for countries to facilitate and simplify the entry of skilled international experts.

“The ease of hiring skilled expatriates is one of the factors which are taken into consideration in the location decision of multinationals,” says a 2013 World Bank study, quoted in the report. It cites research showing that a less restrictive skilled immigration regime helps to attract foreign investment.

Chamber of Mines president, Nathan Chishimba, says in the report that the skills crisis is both a risk and an opportunity – and the opportunity is that it provides a strong impetus for countries to boost their output of mining graduates.

“There is no reason why, with the correct policies and incentives in place, Zambia cannot become a centre of excellence in mining skills and an exporter of talent to the rest of the world,” he says.


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