Exclusive Opinion Piece
Multi-discipline consulting engineers and scientists SRK Consulting is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year, “commemorating a period highlighted by global expansion and technical excellence”, enthuses SRK Consulting chairperson Roger Dixon.
“The expansion of the group, since it was founded in 1974 to become a global player, is a major achievement. We have more than 1 700 employees worldwide and the company is still maintaining the principles of quality and technical excellence that it was founded on.
“However, what is important is not what we have done in the last 40 years, but what we will do in the next 40 years,” he points out.
Dixon notes that SRK has highlighted its return to technical excellence as one of the company’s strategic imperatives. He suggests that the company must strive to further improve its current quality of work, invest in training and development, hire the right individuals and encourage a learning environment within the organisation.
“We do not pander to the mediocre. We have a diverse group of talented young individuals who will take us into the future. All our consultants have to be registered with a professional body, like the Engineering Council of South Africa; we have learnership programmes that enable consultants to meet registration requirements,” Dixon illustrates.
He highlights bridging the gap between the old guard and younger up-and-coming consultants as another strategic imperative. “Our strategic imperative manifesto states that we must reconnect with young professionals. We have to provide the link between professionals who are over the age of 50 and those who are younger than 35.”
Dixon believes fostering communication between the two groups will help ensure the future of the company, as the new generation will promote the SRK ethos of technical excellence, which will have been passed down to them from the previous generation.
Another of SRK’s strategic imperatives is the need to provide additional training and skills development at its Africa-based offices in countries outside South Africa, helping improve the firm’s capacity to service the continent’s growing mining industry.
“Modern technology has made it possible for training and development to take place immediately. For example, if someone at our Ghana office does not know how to conduct a pit slope evaluation, a webinar can be sent to them and any questions the individual may have can be sent to a professional who will answer them,” Dixon illustrates.
Africa-based Mining Consultancy
Dixon notes that while African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Cameroon, Mozambique and Zimbabwe offer significant project opportunities for mining consultancies like SRK, there are still many challenges to be faced when operating in Africa.
He highlights African governments’ lack of institutional capacity as one of the most significant challenges currently facing the consulting sector.
“When conducting consulting work, whether it’s for governments or mining companies, you are met with a lack of capacity within several government departments, including the ministries of finance, environment and water. This often results in significant delays in getting large mining projects under way,” he explains.
Dixon highlights regional collaboration as another challenge facing the industry, as often the infrastructure requirements span across two or even three countries.
There is often a lack of community engagement from local governments regarding environmental and socio-economic issues.
“Many governments are of the opinion that provided relevant legislation is in place there is no need for extensive consultation However, communities and constituencies are now more informed and aware of their rights through digital technology and social networks,
With this in mind, Dixon highlights the need for mining companies to push community development rather than mere engagement. This will result in shared value for all stakeholders.
Sustainability and the Alchemy Model
SRK corporate and social development consultant Tim Hart argues that critics often doubt the mining industry’s ability to live up to its sustainability claims, especially in communities impacted by mining activities.
“Many former mining towns in Africa and around the world have declined dramatically following mine closures, with crumbling infrastructure, weak social services, economic stagnation and elevated levels of unemployment,” he maintains.
Hart cites platinum giant Anglo American Platinum’s (Amplats’) ongoing Alchemy initiative as a project that “seeks to facilitate real and sustainable community development that will outlast local mining projects at four of Amplats’ South African operations and in areas that contribute labour to these mines”.
SRK and a group of multi-disciplinary consultants have been working closely with Amplats on the project, which was launched in February 2010.
The key elements of the Alchemy model include community shareholding in Amplats, which means that the participating communities are the third-largest Amplats shareholder; a guaranteed minimum flow of funds, irrespective of dividend levels; community-managed local development trusts; an integrated planning process that builds lasting partnerships with government, business and civil society and; a commitment to ongoing and inclusive engagement between stakeholders.
“Since 2009, SRK Johannesburg’s social team has contributed social baseline research, and provided strategic and operational advice to financial, legal and organisational design activities. The SRK team has also facilitated an extensive stakeholder engagement programme, which led so far to the establishment of the first of four local Alchemy development trusts,” says Hart.
“The Alchemy initiative has shown the value of a multi-year project development programme involving a client and selected specialist advisors. This approach has enabled SRK and others to participate in a mining project, from conceptualisation to implementation, with added value for all parties involved,” he concludes.
About SRK Consulting
SRK Consulting is a leader in natural resource and development solutions, providing technical services through 45 offices in 22 countries, on six continents. With an African presence in Angola, and practices in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, the global group employs more than 1,500 staff in a range of engineering, scientific, environmental and social disciplines.
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