Zambia needs to have a workforce with the right skills so that productivity in copper production is enhanced.
Skilled miners are critical to meeting the annual copper production of three million tonnes in the next 10 years.
Training mine operators is one way of growing the sector as it increases efficiency in the mine and minimises risks, especially those that come about due to inadequate skills to handle the equipment.
A combination of safety practices and skills is highly demanded improved protection of mining infrastructure, equipment and workers.
It is for this reason that the Technical Education, Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training Authority (TEVETA) has signed a K8.2 million mine operator and mine rescue training contract with Bell Equipment Zambia and Mopani Copper Mines (MCM).
The contract is meant to meet national mining sector productivity targets of copper from 800,000 tonnes of copper to three million tonnes.
The funds for the training are from the Skills Development Fund (SDF), which is a financing vehicle that enhances efficiency, productivity and economic transformation through demand-driven and tailor-made skills training for different economic sectors.
The training will be conducted at Mopani Central Training Centre (MCTC).
TEVETA director general Cleophas Takaiza says the four-year training which will see 240 apprentices being trained per year is focused towards supporting the sustainable growth of the mining sector.
Mr Takaiza says mining is a risky business, so occupational health and safety in the industry play an important role.
“We have to make sure that we increase efficiency in the mine and process but also most importantly minimise downtimes, especially those that come about due to lack of adequate skills to service the equipment,” he says.
He is hopeful of having more of such training that many mining companies are covered so as to standardise the skill levels in the sector.
Speaking during the signing of the contract, Mr Takaiza stated that some skills are scarce especially since the mining sector in the country is growing.
There is also a lot of demand for critical skills such as those repairing big machines, occupational safety and health which are important to drive productivity in the sector.
Mr Takaiza adds that the current state of ‘poaching’ of staff from one company to the other demonstrates that the country does not have sufficient human resources to meet the needs of all companies in the mining sector.
“Our vision is that while we start placing apprentices on this programme, we look at possibilities of having similar programmes coming so that we continue pumping more skills into the sector until we reach a point where more mining companies have at least sufficient numbers of those critical skills that they require,” he says.
The contract will give an opportunity to the youths that want to be trained hence the need for them to take the opportunity seriously.
Zambia Chamber of Mines deputy chief executive officer Talent Ng’andwe says the contract signed will see an increase in the number of rescue divers in the mining industry which has been an area of concern for the mining houses and the community around them.
Mr Ng’andwe highlights that the chamber presented the training programme for mine rescue training to TEVETA in 2017 and was approved in 2018.
“This was done in order to standardise the mine rescue training in Zambia,” he says.
A total of 541 brigade men were trained between 2021 and 2022.
Zambia Mine Rescue president Abraham Kachonka thinks that the training will help the organisation achieve the desired international standards.
Mr Kachonka explains that every year as rescue managers, they meet to formulate the training calendar and that each mine submits the number of people to train.
“The mining industry is growing and at the same time we anticipate more members who are going to join the Zambia Chamber of Mines as more mines will be opened where we need to train more members so that we can render rescue services to all the mines in Zambia,” he says.
Bell Equipment Zambia managing director Samson Chingozho says the training of heavy equipment repair and qualified technicians would improve productivity in the mines by reducing machinery downtime.
The programme will also enable the employability of the youths and fills the skills gap in the mines worldwide as there is pronounced skills flight to other countries from Zambia.
“This programme comes at a time when the demand from our mining industry is outstripping our resources to train. So, we are excited and appreciative of the opportunity to partner with TEVETA and believe that together we will make a real difference in the lives of young Zambians, our communities and our mining industry,” he adds.
The mining industry presents unique challenges to safety such as accidents which have huge cost implications on the mine and the lives of people.