Africa’s abundance of natural resources has made it extremely attractive to mining companies. However, establishing a workforce and maximising ‘local’ employment opportunities, while integral to the success of any mining operation, is fraught with difficulties politically, socially and economically.
In a presentation to the Australia-Africa Minerals & Energy Group on 29 October 2015, Tim Carstens, managing director of Base Resources, outlined the key challenges and learnings in workforce establishment in its Kwale Mineral Sands Operations in Kenya.
As the first large-scale mining operation in that country, community expectations in relation to local employment were sky-high. These expectations were met—the workforce at Kwale is 94% Kenyan and 63% local community—but the process of doing so involved managing population influx and community expectations, and gradually increasing the quality and quantity of Kenyan jobs.
As a preliminary step, Base identified priority areas and the skill sets needed. It then looked for people with the required skill sets, starting from areas closest to the mine and progressing to areas further away. The influx of jobseekers to the area, which would typically occur when a large-scale mining operation became public knowledge, was managed through a formal application process in which applicants had to show proof of residence.
A locally-based community liaison committee was key to the success of this operation, managing expectations and providing insights into community attitudes. Such insights were vital in garnering the support of the local community. For instance, the liaison committee found that it was important to hire the ‘right’ Kenyans—the local community was more resistant to the hiring of non-local Kenyans than it was to the hiring of expatriates.
The mine life of Base’s Kwale mineral sands project is relatively short, at 13 years. However, it is likely that its effects in the community will be felt long after that. Base developed long-term succession plans for all roles through a structured skills transfer and development program, gradually improving the quality and quantity of Kenyan jobs. In its partnership with the Technical University of Mombasa, Base has also run graduate programmes, technical trade apprenticeships, attachment programmes and work experience programmes. These initiatives would not only improve community perception of the mine, but would also build long-term workforce capacity in Kenya’s mining sector.
Using Kwale as a case study, it is apparent that Base’s approach is capable of wide application: by carefully managing community expectations and investing in training and development, the lack of local experience in mining is far from an insurmountable obstacle in establishing a workforce.
The Inside Africa team would like to thank Megan Tan for her contribution to this blog post.