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Lack of skills should not become a constraint for mining sector recovery – Mvalo

24th November 2023

By: Darren Parker

Creamer Media Contributing Editor Online

     

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Department of Higher Education and Training deputy director-general Zukile Mvalo has stressed the importance of ensuring that a shortage of skills does not become a constraint for the recovery and growth of the mining and mineral sector, which is starting to show hints of recovery following a period of downturn.

Speaking at the Mining Qualifications Authority's (MQA's) 2023 Annual Consultative Conference and Inaugural Mining Skills Lekgotla, in Boksburg, on November 24, Mvalo said skills development, when done right, can reduce underemployment, decrease unemployment, increase productivity and improve standards of living.

Mvalo noted that mining production decreased by 2.5% year-on-year in August. The largest negative contributors were diamonds at -54.6%, contributing -2.7 percentage points, manganese ore at -7.9%, which contributed -0.6 percentage points, and other metallic minerals at -17.6%, contributing -0.5 percentage points.

Overall, mining production increased by 0.8% in August compared to July. This was preceded by month-on-month changes of -1.7% in July and 0.8% in June.

"We also noted that the mining and quarrying industry growth increased by 1.3% in the second quarter, contributing 0.1% to the gross domestic product (GDP) growth, coming just behind the agriculture, forestry, fishing, and manufacturing sectors.

“So, [this is] good news if we're looking into these very critical primary industries of our country,” Mvalo said.

"Increased economic activities were registered for platinum group metals (PGMs), gold, other metallic minerals and coal. In the first quarter as well, we saw some positive growth at 0.9%, with increased economic activities reported in PGMs and gold.

“Seemingly, there is something we're doing well in PGMs, as well as gold, because they continue to contribute positively to our GDP,” Mvalo said.

He highlighted the need to comprehend some of the key drivers that continued to influence skills in their sector.

In terms of technological advancements, the sector is increasingly adopting and embracing advanced technologies such as automation, robotics and artificial intelligence to stay ahead.

Mvalo said the MQA must lead the way in integrating these technologies into its skills programmes, ensuring that the South African workforce was not only adept at traditional mining practices but also at the cutting edge of technological advancement and ensuring that no-one is left behind, especially the working class and the poor within the sector.

“Technological advancements or rapid skills development programmes need to instil a culture of adaptability and continuous learning among workers to keep pace with industry changes,” he said.

He added that the MQA must also dedicate skills programmes focusing on training workers to adhere to safety standards and procedures to prevent accidents and promote a safe environment.

Mvalo also noted that skills in environmental sustainability needed to be developed.

“With a growing emphasis on sustainable and responsible mining practices, there is a need for skills development, especially in areas such as environmental management, waste reduction and resource conservation.

"Furthermore, global concerns about sustainability and environmental impacts continue to grow, and the MQA must play a central role in promoting responsible mining practices. This includes, among other things, instilling a deep sense of environmental stewardship and ethical conduct,” he said.

In terms of market performance, Mvalo said that, since the sector was influenced by global markets and international standards, workers needed to be equipped with skills that aligned with global industry trends and standards, and best practices.

He added that the mining industry was experiencing a shift in its workforce demographics, particularly with regards to its aging workforce and the entry of younger, tech-savvy professionals.

“Skills development programmes must address the needs of a diverse workforce with varying levels of experience,” Mvalo said.

He noted that the industry was increasingly recognising the importance of community and stakeholder engagement, which opened the door for additional skilled role players to contribute to the industry.

“Skills development programmes may include, among other things, communication, community relations, and social responsibility to foster positive relationships with local communities,” Mvalo said.

He charged the mining industry to continue investing in research and development, staying ahead of the curve to remain competitive on the global stage and to discover more efficient and sustainable mining practices. He added that it was critical to ensure that workers were trained in the latest innovative methods and technologies.

Economic conditions, including commodity prices and market demand, influence the level of investment in the mining sector. Economic stability and growth can drive or limit resources available for skills development programmes.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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