By MAIMBOLWA MULIKELELA –
ZAMBIA was at one time a hub of knowledge in mining techniques, this was when the country was rated among the top ten copper producers in the world.
The country prided itself as a symbol of industry excellence in world-class skills training framework not only in the region but globally.
But during the 1980s when copper prices plummeted to their lowest ebb, followed by an unprecedented world economic crisis during a larger part of the 1990s and the subsequent privatisation of Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines(ZCCM), the country’s giant mining conglomerate.
This significantly reduced mining activities across the world and Zambia experienced the biggest toll as all skills training programmes declined as the sector was awaiting completion of the privatisation process which also affected the country’s economic performance.
As a result, the skills training framework collapsed and the country could not train any more mining engineers and professionals in other related fields.
Further, the country failed to put in place measures to continue with skills training after the privatisation of ZCCM Limited.
Zambia’s record was therefore shuttered and lagged behind in as far as skills training was concerned.
Mines, Energy and Water Development Minister Christopher Yaluma agrees that there is a wide gap in the mining industry’s expertise which if not addressed, may worsen the situation.
The shortage of skilled manpower in the mining sector, no doubt has a telling effect on the industry and the overall performance of the economy.
This may also result in the losing out on the opportunity of creating a mass of skilled labour that can drive the industrialisation process of the country.
“If we do not address the shortage of skills development in the industry, we risk seeing an influx of expatriates, a situation that will rob Zambians of the much needed employment.
“Therefore, we should put in place measures that will ensure that Zambians are equipped with the relevant skills. Allowing our mining industry to be run by foreigners is like exporting development to other countries,” Mr Yaluma said.
Mr Yaluma said mining is one of the key economic sectors of the country and for it to continue being competitive and contribute to economic development, it requires adequate skills.
The Minister pointed out that if the sector was uncompetitive, the country risks missing out of the much needed Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) adding that, facilitating the availability of adequate skills was one way of ensuring a conducive environment for continued development of the mining industry.
It is important to point out that in the Mines and Mineral Development Act there are provisions that encourage the promotion of employment and training in Zambian mining companies.
Mr Yaluma said the enforcement of these provisions can be enhanced if initiatives of skills training are improved.
On the other hand, Africa’s youth’s population is getting better educated especially at Secondary and tertiary levels despite some significant quality gap and apparent mismatch in skills.
If this reservoir of human capital is strategically harnessed and channeled towards the productive sectors of the economy, the African Development Bank (AfDB) resident representative Freddie Kwesiga says the institution would provide the vital support for economic and social development in that respect.
At the same time, the youths will present a significant threat to social cohesion and political stability if Africa fails to create sufficient employment opportunities for them as being witnessed in the northern part of Africa.
Highlighting the strategies in promoting skills development in Africa, Dr Kwesiga said. Zambia’s Vision 2030 focuses on achieving middle income status and skills development was identified as a key factor in realising this goal.
“In Zambia one of the constraints that the private sector has to deal with, is a lack of skilled labour both at technician and professional levels,” he said.
Therefore, the bank has provided US$32 million to the Zambian Government for skills development in order to change the current scenario.
Dr Kwesiga said there is a paradox of aiming at increased jobs while leaving behind skills development which is the very engine to steer the human resource potential for the country’s economic growth and achievement of middle income status.
Zambia has had a decade of gradual economic growth with an average rate of about 5.7 per cent and the outlook remains favourable, underpinned by a decade long of robust growth and single digit inflation.
In addition, Zambia’s economic growth in the last two decades had not translated into significant reduction in the unemployment levels.
Dr Kwesiga said obstacles to youth employment include the inability of the educational system to equip people with relevant skills required by the job market.
The bank’s recent consultation with the Government and the private sector have clearly indicated that a gap exists between the private sector skills demands both in terms of quality of graduates and the quantity and the supply from the training institutions.
It is against this background that the Government, the mining sector and other stakeholders signed an agreement to support skills development in the mining industry.
This Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is intended to facilitate the implementation of a framework to support skills training for the mining sector and address the skills shortage.
ZCCM Investment Holdings (ZCCM-IH) executive chairperson Willa Mung’omba said: “We are in agreement that currently, Zambia was facing worrying drawbacks in the mining sector due to lack of appropriate skills, and that steps to remedy this must be taken.”
For the mining sector to play its pivotal role in the Zambian economy, it must continue to be run in a more efficient and coordinated manner.
This requires that strategic investments be placed not only in machinery and equipment but especially in Human Capital.
Commenting on the mining skills and training framework, Chamber of
Mines of Zambia (CMZ|) president Emmanuel Mutati said the training framework would provide a unique opportunity for the parties particularly, the mining industry, academia and the Government to address the critical issues surrounding skills development in a strategic and more focused manner.
“We expect that the agreement will facilitate productive cooperation among the parties and to open up opportunities for local and international partnerships.
Challenges of skills gaps and shortages are not unique to Zambia but are common world over, so there is an opportunity to learn from stories from different parts of the world,” Mr Mutati said.
The emerging skills shortage is an issue that matters deeply to the Chamber of Mines and its clients. It represents a challenge for the country and the mining industry in particular.
The expansion in the mining sector makes it clear when the challenge intensifies and failure to address it will result in serious consequences that are serious and lasting,” he said.
Mr Mutati pointed out that the CMZ and individual mining companies however fully understand the essential need for the availability of skilled labour, without which even the most ambitious investment in equipment and technologies will not produce the intended results.
Further, the industry was apprehensive that if nothing was done, the skills shortage would get worse each year that passes.
“The Chamber is providing a platform for member companies to combine efforts at industry level and has established trainingl to help galvanise industry skills development and assess the capacities of individual company based training centres.
Their work revealed that individual companies are passionate about skills development and are investing heavily in this area,” he said.
To illustrate how seriously the mining companies take skills development, Mr Mutati said there are already significant projects and initiatives underway at existing mine sites.
First Quantum Minerals (FQM) Limited has entered into partnership with the Government through the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Early Education and invested about US1.9 million in a state-the-Art training facility.
The project is being spearheaded by the Solwezi Trades Training Institute and they are running leadership programmes in mechanical, electrical and metal fabrication with mandate to expand the course portfolio.
While the neighbouring Barrick Gold has a robust programme working jointly with FQM through a bilateral arrangement, Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) has also revamped Kitwe Trades School and invested a comprehensive upgrading programme, covering infrastructure, equipment, human resource and course portfolio.
The company has so far spent about US$2.6 million in ghe programme. On the other hand, Mopani Copper Mines (MCM) was establishing a completely new US$15 million training facility in Mufulira to be commissioned in 2015 and will support the cost of students attending courses there.
Now that skills gap ranks as number one of the main barriers to the mines achieving improved productivity and competitiveness, there is need to support skills training and address the qualified manpower shortage in the mining sector once and for all.