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Murray & Roberts Cementation steadily transforms its workforce

Transformation in the world of underground mining – historically dominated by white males – is not easy to achieve but Murray & Roberts Cementation, probably the biggest and best-known mining contractor operating in South Africa, believes it is making steady progress towards its goal of having a workforce that reflects the demographics of the country.

“We are getting closer and closer to our targets,” says Tumi Smith, Human Resources Director of Murray & Roberts Cementation, who is driving the company’s transformation initiatives. “We now have Historically Disadvantaged South Africans (HDSAs) well represented throughout the company, with around 70 occupying top management, senior management and middle management positions.”

At senior management level, the company has HDSAs in a variety of positions – for example, working as project services executive, project executive, contracts engineer and engineering manager – while at middle management level, it has HDSAs filling many demanding roles, such as transport manager, senior site engineer, mine overseer, cost engineer and chief safety officer projects.

“We have targets that we continuously review for the appointment of HDSAs to management positions,” notes Smith. “As we close in targets, we increase them. We want to avoid complacency and to be continuously challenged.” Smith says that the company’s goals are quite ambitious and that not all targets have yet been met.

Workforce

“At senior management level, for example, we’re currently aiming for 36 % HDSA representation but are currently standing at 24 %. Similarly, we want 48 % of our professional people to be HDSAs but at this point have only attained 39 %. At skills and technical level, we’re at around 63 % as against the 68 % we’re looking for. But the progress is there and these figures are immeasurably better than they were just several years ago.”

She adds that the goal at top management (board) level is for 50 % HDSA representation and says this was achieved by the end of Murray & Roberts Cementation’s 2021 financial year.

The main impediment to transformation is the lack of skills at certain levels, particularly the more senior categories. We can only appoint someone to a position if they’re capable of doing the job. “Mining contracting is an industry where competence must come before all else given the demanding nature of the work,” says Smith.

Smith says Murray & Roberts Cementation is getting around this shortage of skills by identifying talented individuals within its workforce and then mentoring them. Frequently, senior managers who are about to retire and have a lifetime of experience behind them will take on this mentoring role.

Murray & Roberts Cementation is also working to increase the proportion of women in its workforce. “Here again we have specific targets,” remarks Smith. “We are currently aiming for 25 % of our top managers, 15 % of our senior managers, 24 % of our professionally qualified people and 26 % of our skilled technical and academically qualified workers to be female. We’ve made good progress at top management level, where we’ve achieved a figure of 20 %, but at the other levels we still have some work to do, particularly when it comes to senior management where females currently fill only 3,45 % of positions.”

She points out that it is often a case of two steps forward to one step back, with Murray & Roberts Cementation sometimes getting closer to a target only to fall back. “Part of the reason for this is skills transfer as part of the Section 197 process,” she explains. “For example, a Section 197 on our Kalagadi manganese mine contract in December 2021 resulted in us losing quite a few HDSA employees, some of whom were females, to our client. Our total workforce fluctuates constantly but currently stands at 2 697, with women accounting for 14 % of this total.”

A big advantage that Murray & Roberts Cementation has over its competitors when it comes to transformation, particularly at the more junior levels, is its training facility at Bentley Park near Carletonville. The Murray & Roberts Training Academy (MRTA), as it is known, has been operating for many years. It is extremely well equipped and features sophisticated machine simulators as well as mock-up facilities such as a bord-and-pillar layout on surface which realistically emulates underground conditions.

According to Smith, the MRTA – which works closely with the Mining Qualifications Authority (MQA) – is invaluable to Murray & Roberts Cementation, especially when it comes to meeting localisation commitments on contracts, where people from local communities are given preference in workforce recruitment and require fast and effective training. While basic mining skills are the focus, training in health and safety in the mining environment is also available.

She notes that Murray & Roberts Cementation has spent approximately R59 million on training in the company’s current financial year, with R57 million of this going to the training of HDSA candidates.

“No one else in South Africa has anything like the MRTA,” says Smith. “Not only do we train our own people but we also train for our clients, our sub-contractors and others, thereby contributing to the creation of a skills pools which serves the entire mining sector. Our biggest priority is to provide the skills to transform our own company but we are more than happy to contribute to the transformation goals of the wider mining industry.”

 

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