HomeFeatures & AnalysisSA mining workforce engagement critical to industry survival

SA mining workforce engagement critical to industry survival

The adversarial relationship between stakeholders in the mining sector (including the mining workforce) is doing little to calm the tensions currently being experienced. Looming strikes and the slide in the commodity prices only exaggerate the problem – a problem that Wyzetalk believes could be avoidable.

Says Co-founder and CEO Wyzetalk Enterprise Engagement Platform Gysbert Kappers: “Too often, relationships with stakeholders lack collective effort, which is critical to the lifeblood of this industry. A powerful shift is occurring in workforce dynamics and if a change isn’t made, we are likely to see the demise of the mining and potentially other industries as we know them.”

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Speaking at the Wyzetalk Workforce Insights Series Mining event recently, Dr. James Motlatsi, Chairman of Shanduka Group concurred – highlighting that mining companies should be engaging their workforce on issues facing the industry frequently and directly.

Motlatsi compared the mining industry to a three-legged pot, wherein the three legs – the general workforce, the management team and the shareholders/investors – are equally important for the pot to stand. More importantly, success is dependent on each of them understanding their roles and responsibilities in relation to one another.

“The question that begs an answer today is whether these legs not only understand their own responsibility, but one another’s? My answer is no – I don’t think they do – which is why we find ourselves in the position we do. And after every long strike (be it legal or illegal), what follows is detrimental to all stakeholders – retrenchments and closures of shafts not to be opened again, even if the commodity price goes up.

“This is an unbearable situation that we risk having and is leading to the destruction of the entire industry – largely because of the lack of workforce engagement,” says Motlatsi.

Mining companies need to commit to greater transparency and engagement along with an understanding of the shifts in society and the governmental agenda to achieve the operational stability required to satisfy all stakeholders.

Adds Kappers: “Mining companies must find ways to enhance stakeholder engagement and better manage constituencies. This is no easy task especially if we consider the diverse LSM groups of the stakeholders involved and in many cases the lack of formalised communication to reach each group. However, if workers understand the economics of the industry and why they are required to do the work they do, and management is more empathetic to their needs – viewing workers as people with families – rather than just the ‘hands’ – we are likely to see more engagement, collaboration and organised activities that translates into more inclusive teams, with a shared vision and a better relationship based on transparency and improved productivity.

“The three legs of the pot – must understand each other and work together. Communication and creating an open culture of engagement is paramount to do so.”

The mining industry in South Africa is facing more challenges now than ever before – political and social challenges, the uncertainty around the price of commodity as well as the aging mines in South Africa. However there are also challenges beyond the factory gate, which management and workers need to face together.

Professor Tom Ryan from the UCT Graduate School of Business spoke about the Psychological Contract – the unwritten set of expectations of the employment relationship that exists in the heads of employees and employers and which together with the codified employment contract defines the employment relationship.

“Currently this is not in sync – and a new management system is needed in the mining sector – one that includes empathy and mindfulness of employee situations. At the same time, employees need to understand how important they are for the broader industry and between the two find a fair deal that builds trust.”

Ryan’s sentiments were echoed by the Teamship co-founding duo, Steve Carver and David Germond who highlight the need for the industry to look for transformative purpose to build a winning culture. “The question is how do we re-humanise the industry,” says Carver.

“We can look at all the processes and policies – but the heart of any business is its people and if you feel it, you can lead it. It’s all about the cumulative stimulation of marginal gains and creating a culture and common purpose where diversity exists. Communication is critical here, authentic storytelling and recognising the importance of engaging with all stakeholders including communities and families, not just the employee.”

“When we are facing so many challenges we need to sit down and look at the industry needs from the shop floor to the top floor. We cannot talk about transformation of a declining industry – we need to solve the current challenges first and the first step is transparency and communication,” concludes Motlatsi.

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