South Africa is down to a “staggeringly low” number of only 500 practising mining engineers whose average age is a high 47, says Gold Fields CEO Nick Holland.
Holland, who addressed a high-level University of Johannesburg (UJ) function to mark his company’s latest contribution to arresting South Africa’s skills decline, adds that there is a similar scarcity of middle managers.
He points out that mine manager certifications have declined from 123 in 1997 to a mere 25 in 2008, with the 25 emerging from an original 822 applications.
Gold Fields has been praised by South Africa’s Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu for investing R26-million in the development of mining skills.
The gold company is providing a three-year financial underpin of the mining engineering faculties at both the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and UJ.
“It’s critical that we start increasing the graduate pipeline,” says Holland.
In addition to the R26-million three-year pledge to the two universities, Gold Fields spends R200-million a year on education and training that includes basic literacy.
At its own academy, the company has produced certified mine managers from people who arrive unable to read or write English.
UJ engineering dean Professor Tshilidzi Marwala says that the Gold Fields funding will be directed at UJ’s school of mining, metallurgy and chemical engineering, which has 396 students and which graduated 112 students this year.
UJ provides the national mining diploma and the Bachelor of Technology (BTech) degrees in mining engineering, which Holland describes as important building blocks to increase the number of mine manager certifications.
UJ vice-chancellor Professor Ihron Rensburg says that UJ produces one in five of South Africa’s engineers a year and has recently completed a R500-million investment project at its campus in Soweto, where it will offer two doctorate, three masters and honours, five bachelor degree and seven diploma programmes.
“It’s the first township campus to receive such a major investment,” Rensburg adds.
Of UJ’s 12 000 first-year places a year, 1 000 are to be reserved for the children from schools that serve South Africa’s lowest-income communities.
Rensburg says that the university’s key strategic goal is to establish itself as South Africa’s leading science and technology university and to enhance its mining engineering offering.
UJ intends to establish an accredited workplace-learning centre at its Doornfontein campus that will provide the work experience that students require prior to graduating.
While South Africa’s 4 600 engineers of all disciplines officially represent a 15% shortfall, Holland believes the real shortfall to be considerably greater.
The capital injection that Gold Fields has provided at Wits has been used for the expansion of the fourth quadrant of the Chamber of Mines building that houses the faculty of engineering, as well as the upgrade and equipping of the new 200-seater “world first” mine design laboratory.