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Investment in People Keeps Murray & Roberts Cementation

It is of major significance that the revenue set for Murray & Roberts Cementation for 2010 has been reached two years sooner than planned. This is according to Henry Laas, managing director of this leading mining contracting company.

Laas says for the financial year ending June 2008, Murray & Roberts Cementation’s revenue approached R3 billion. “The growth in the commodity prices over the past two years created significant opportunities for major mining houses in South Africa, with many of these in base metals and platinum.”

“Although Murray & Roberts Cementation is well positioned to continue providing a world class service to its business partners and clients we, like the entire local mining industry, are currently suffering from a lack of experienced and skilled people in our business,” Laas says.

The commodity boom worldwide, supported by significant demand from China and India, has seen growth being experienced by all major mining countries in the world, and this unfortunately resulted in the loss of experienced South African engineers to these markets. Laas says it is difficult to attract people from other mining countries such as Australia and Canada to South Africa, and there is a huge responsibility on all South African companies to develop skills and management capacity to service the local market.

“Murray & Roberts Cementation recognises this and makes a considerable investment in training and development. In fact, we are currently investing about 5% of our annual payroll in training and development. This is significantly more than the national average, which is around 3%,” Laas says.

Management programmes

During the last year Murray & Roberts Cementation entered into a partnership with Wits Business School and the LR Group to develop customised project management programmes for middle and senior management. These programmes are being presented by Wits Business School and people who graduate from this programme will have attained a tertiary education at NQF Level 5 and Level 7.

Laas says 40 Murray & Roberts Cementation employees graduated from this programme recently. “I am extremely proud of all Murray & Roberts Cementation employees and especially those that have taken the time over the last 12 months to complete the development programme.

“This course has meant a lot of hard work for those concerned because, although the courses are presented during working hours, the preparation for examinations and assignment work is conducted after hours. Feedback from the Wits Business School shows that they are very excited to be working with Murray & Roberts Cementation personnel due to their high level of participation throughout the learning process.

“All graduates can be justifiably proud of themselves for completing a course that the Wits Business School admits is of a very high standard.”

In addition to this programme, Murray & Roberts Cementation sponsors 35 bursars who are currently studying at various universities.

Murray & Roberts Cementation is committed to training and development and Laas says it is not only seen as a very important requirement within the organisation, but the company has a collective responsibility, with the rest of industry, to address the industry wide skills issue.

“We believe that as responsible citizens of South Africa we need to focus on training and development. However, the biggest challenge when investing this level of capital is to ensure the company reaps the benefits through the retention of the people who have been trained. This is important, firstly within the organisation, and secondly within the country.”

Murray & Roberts Cementation people are often headhunted not just by competitor companies but also by clients. “We, however, believe that by making this investment in the development of our people that we will create a sense of loyalty and make Murray & Roberts Cementation a preferred employer to them. With the growth in our business, those people who value the investment being made in their development will be granted the opportunity to develop their careers within the organisation.”

Working closely with the mining companies, Murray & Roberts Cementation continued to invest in its Mining Qualifications Authority (MQA) accredited Training Academy at Bentley Park close to Carletonville. Training is currently underway for crews who will undertake vertical shaft projects in the future. The first crews to be specifically trained in vertical shaft work will be for Anglo Platinum’s Amandelbult 4 Shaft, followed by the teams going to the Wesizwe Shaft Project.

Laas says the level of investment by Murray & Roberts Cementation in training and people development should be considered by clients during their tender adjudication processes.

Projects

All our current projects are doing well, although some challenges are being faced at Anglo Platinum’s Paardekraal 2 Shaft Project as well as at Impala Platinum’s 20 Shaft Project. These challenges are mainly skills related.

“Contract mining remains an important part of our business and Aquarius Platinum (AQPSA) is a very important client,” Laas says. “The growth that we have had at our Kroondal and Marikana Projects in Rustenburg has required us to enter into a new commercial arrangement with AQPSA. Both parties are pleased with the outcome and we believe that we now have a commercial model which will ensure the sustainability of this highly effective mining operation for many years to come.”

Safety

On the safety front Murray & Roberts Cementation has had mixed results in the financial year to June 2008. Laas says the organisation started off the financial year with an LTIF (Lost Time Injury Frequency) rate (per million hours worked) of 6.83 and closed the financial year on an LTIF rate of 3.94.

“This is a significant achievement since Murray & Roberts Cementation benchmarks itself against the Ontario benchmark (the benchmark for the Canadian mining industry) and their latest LTIF rate was 4.05,” he explains.

“To our knowledge the only mining company in South Africa achieving a better result than this is Impala Platinum whose latest records show an LTIF rate of 3.83.

Laas says that to further improve Murray & Roberts Cementation’s safety performance, the next challenge will be to ensure deeper involvement from employees. “What we have achieved until now is through the implementation of systems from a top-down approach and while this has certainly enabled us to get to an LTIF rate of 3.94, we now need to drive this process from the bottom up.

“We believe that in the mining industry, more so than any other industry in South Africa, the divide between management and the workers is still too big and needs to be closed. We are currently evaluating initiatives which will present all employees with the opportunity to participate in a process that will not only improve the safety performance, but also contribute towards establishing a better working relationship between supervisors and employees,” Laas concludes.

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