Mining, engineering and construction contracting company Murray & Roberts Cementation remains committed to the development and training of its base of over 11,000 employees despite the economic downturn.

The company invests a large amount of time, money and effort in training and developing employee skills by making use of a dedicated training academy and a large range of mock-up training facilities.

Murray & Roberts Cementation business development director Allan Widlake explains the importance of providing its employees with an above average level of competence with regards to skills and safety.

Widlake said: “Within our business strategy, the upskilling of people is considered a prime focal point. It ties in with our safety culture which holds as pivotal the philosophy that we do things correctly the first time by giving people the means, tools and equipment with which to do the job.”

He adds that in order for companies to be sustainable, significant investment needs to be made in developing people, ranging from the bottom of the skills band right to the top. That is why the company therefore provides its employees with the knowledge, skills, experience and competencies to perform at the required standard.

Despite adverse market conditions, the company is still running its training facilities and it is spending above the national average on training.

Murray & Roberts Cementation established what is considered the largest mining contracting facility dedicated to the training of in-house personnel in South Africa in November 2005. The location at Bentley Park near Carletonville allows easy access from both the Bushveld PGM complex as well as the gold and coalfields.

Widlake explains that there is a growing trend in the mining industry to move away from migrant labour and to hire personnel from local communities where mining activities are taking place. Employees from these communities need to be trained to perform the specialised tasks required by the company and the training academy is ideal for this purpose.

The training academy is unique in that it is the only one of its kind in South Africa that is ISO 9001:2000, ISO 14001:2004 and OHSAS 18001:1999 rated. The facility has also received accredited training provider status from the Mining Qualifications Authority (MQA).

Mock-Up Facilities

A range of mock-up mining training facilities has been set up at Bentley Park. Most mining activities, including conventional mining and shaft sinking, can be simulated at these facilities.

Murray & Roberts Cementation only wants to bring skilled people, who have been exposed to shaft sinking activities, onto a client’s site. This can be done by adapting individual mock-ups to each project’s specified methodology. By providing training under these simulated operating conditions, personnel are able to benefit and learn within a controlled environment.

The simulated training process has been taken one step further by placing a greater emphasis on mechanised mining equipment. Widlake explained that the company has invested in two load haul dump (LHD) machine simulators.

LHD machines allow mine operators to safely load and move ore and, with over 100 in use in its Kroondal operations, it has been vital for the company to provide training on this machinery.

A typical simulator allows driving and operating within a three-dimensional environment under “real” operating conditions and includes a portable cab with all the controls and gauges found in a LHD.

In addition the company’s long running e-learning programme, based both at Bentley Park and at its Kroondal contract, allows for the updating of skills and standards in a quiet and controlled environment.

Widlake explained: “By providing our workforce with the requisite skills needed in an often hazardous environment, we empower them to avoid risk and non-compliant situations and enhance not only their working environment but also that of everyone around them, while at the same time improving productivity levels.”

The company has a supervisory development programme that ensures better engagement among all employees. Widlake explains that the company wants to educate its employees on what makes the company successful and what detracts from it.

Widlake said: “We want to develop a culture around employee engagement ensuring that we are the first choice from our employee side as well as the client side.”

Company offerings

Besides offering improved training methods to employees, Widlake says that the company also offers added value to a project by becoming involved early on in the project life cycle.

Junior mining companies can benefit from working with Murray & Roberts Cementation Widlake explained.

He says that the company can give greater confidence in the junior mines’ bankable feasibility study by applying its data base and extensive experience in contract mining to that of the project’s production plan and cost models.

Widlake said: “When a client is going through a process of pre-selection as to which company it wants to use as its primary contractor, we can get involved by optimising the client’s production plans developed to date. We apply our broad base of skills and knowledge, track record and data bases to fine tune what has already been done.”

Murray & Roberts Cementation aims to set itself apart as being a first-choice and world-class mining contracting company. Widlake states that in order for the company to operate successfully in the industry it should continue to provide sound project management.

Widlake said: “That in itself covers a whole host of aspects, from front end engineering to fantastic training facilities to an engineering yard that backs up all our projects on site.”

All of the company’s major wheel or mechanised equipment used underground is taken to the engineering yard workshop and is rebuilt.

Widlake says that this is a huge differentiator as it is the only company in South Africa that has the ability to do this.

Market conditions

Despite adverse market conditions the company is finding that clients are still looking at outsourcing. It is in discussion with a number of clients over future projects while current projects are still in operation.

Various projects with junior mining companies are not being cancelled; a few are, however, being delayed. Widlake believes that that these projects will come to fruition and that the markets are slowly turning, probably for base metals before precious metals.

Murray & Roberts Cementation was the originator of contract mining in South Africa. When Australian mining company, Aquarius, went out on an open enquiry for the outsourcing of their operations at Kroondal, it was Murray & Roberts Cementation that was awarded the first-of-its-kind contract in 1999.

Widlake explained: “We still have this same contract at Kroondal where we mine in the order of 600,000t per month. Our ongoing performance on the contract has seen us continue with this relationship at Kroondal.”

Murray & Roberts Cementation offers a number of services including mine design and planning, and specialist pre-feasibility and feasibility studies. The company is able to provide clients with mining equipment and fleet maintenance studies. It also undertakes underground infrastructure design and installation as well as mechanised and semi-mechanised development and stoping.