Sunday, November 2, 2008

Zimbabwe could exacerbate South Africa’s skills shortage – Ernst & Young

Zimbabwe righting itself could exacerbate South Africa’s already strained human-resources situation, Ernst & Young mining sector leader Adrian Macartney said on Wednesday.

Releasing an Ernst & Young report which found that the mining industry had reached critical levels of skills shortage globally, Macartney advised that there be no let-up in the mining industry’s skills-development effort, despite the current turmoil in global financial markets.

Should Zimbabweans decide return to Zimbabwe in the event of a political solution being found there, South African mining companies could find themselves with “a bit of a hole to fill”, he warned, upon releasing the company’s latest, Attracting Workers to the Mines and Retaining Them, booklet.

The study found that the mining industry was facing “critical labour shortages at all levels”, the situation in South Africa being whacked by the departure of one-third of the its engineers over the past 40 years.

Problems in retaining skilled mining staff were affecting both productivity and the ability of the industry to expand.

The growing labour shortage had, in fact, become a significant strategic threat to the industry, fast growth in Russia, China and India combining with insufficient new graduates and an ageing work force.

In addition, South Africa had HIV/Aids and a legacy of poor education for 90% of the population, at a time of massive resources-sector demand.

The strain was also being felt internationally, Australia requiring an additional 80 000 workers and Canada an additional 70 000, to meet their mining industry’s projected needs.

In Canada, 40% of the mining work force would retire by 2014.

Staff turnover was also high, Australia’s the highest ranging from 20% to 45%, depending on location.

Increasing staff turnover was, in turn, threatening productivity and safety, as less experienced personnel filled the gaps.

The South African mining industry was also facing competition for engineers from the booming construction industry.

Mining human-resources departments needed to be more proactive, with predictive labour-market modelling an innovative approach worth considering.

As it took 12 to 15 years to develop a deep-level South African mine shaft, “you are effectively looking at attracting staff who are now in grade one”.

The mining industry had developed some innovative solutions to its labour problems, which included underground workers in South Africa being offered a sign-up bonus of five times their basic salary.

A Canadian salary survey showed that 69% of mines reported using some form of incentive bonus plan.

Mining companies operating in Western Australia were using a fly-in/fly-out system so that employees did not have to move their families to remote locations.

The report suggested looking outside the mining industry and attracting people with general, rather than specific skill sets, and opening up the sector to a broader demographic.

The effective participation of women in the sector was currently low, in Australia women making up only 18% of the work force in mining, compared with 45% of the total work force.