“Local content requires a joint effort between governments and private entities to create an employment-ready workforce to match the demand with the supply. Simply regulating demand is counter-productive without an adequate supply of people.”
Could you briefly introduce Stratum International to our audience?
WC: We founded Stratum International in 2012, positioning the firm against the standard reactive recruitment model by building a proactive or a "farming" model: identifying and interviewing professionals in the market, whether they are actively looking for new roles or not, and becoming a data business – a "knowledge" consultancy.
Stratum's focus is exclusively mining, managing executive search and recruitment projects across business-critical leadership roles at HQ and site, including, CEO, COO, VP's, and at site, GM and GM-1, as well as project development and exploration teams. Over the last eight years, we have interviewed thousands of professionals, creating a highly concentrated database. This allows us not just to find the right person on paper, but to make sure they fit the company's culture by applying our scientific profiling tools.
Another core area of Stratum's business is working with the finance and private equity communities, referencing leadership teams as part of investment due diligence processes. Our reach is global, with clients split between TSX, LSE, and ASX, and the majority of the business is in emerging markets, with Africa representing about 40% - 50% of revenues.
What challenges has the pandemic brought to the mining job market?
JB: Normally with strong commodity prices we would expect new projects and M&A activity creating a wave of job movement, but what we see today is tight liquidity for the junior market and some delays in project funding. Despite talks of increased M&A, travel restrictions have impeded their realisation. Companies have been forced, in a way, to focus more on risk assessment in the supply chain, maintaining production guidelines, and evaluating whether more integration of their operating centres makes sense.
Trying to keep operations stable means we have seen lower turnover in the West African space so far this year. In terms of individual challenges, some people were stranded for months on-site in West Africa, making significant personal sacrifices during the pandemic. When the situation stabilises, I expect they may reassess their personal risk-taking. Mining companies should be paying attention to how they treat their employees under these difficult conditions, and what messages they send in terms of personal safety.
WC: West Africa is a very expat-driven, fly-in, fly-out market, with no readily self-sufficient labour. As people start reflecting on their lives, they may feel less enticed to travel and instead choose opportunities in their back garden. The typical mining executive and site-based leader tend to be over 50 and therefore statistically are at a higher health risk from a Covid-19 perspective.
West African countries are leaning towards stricter local content laws. How effective are these?
JB: The principal issue is the lack of data on the effectiveness of local content policies in generating local employment. There is no one universal one size fits all formula for promoting direct local employment, and the capabilities and level of development of each host government will be crucial in determining such outcomes. Local content requires a joint effort between governments and private entities to create an employment-ready workforce to match the demand with the supply. Simply regulating demand is counter-productive without an adequate supply of people. With the progress in automation technologies, the number and the nature of jobs will change, and both local governments and the mining industry needs to prepare for these changes.
How do you see the appeal of mining for younger generations?
WC: As mining continues on a path of automation that is transforming the industry, younger generations across the world should become more drawn to what is becoming a tech business. AI, automation, and soon, quantum computing will all change the industry.
JB: I think the youth in the developing world see mining in a more positive way and as a career choice with well-paying jobs. We tend to look at this from a "Western" perspective. For instance, Camborne School of Mines in the UK has paused their mining courses partly because of a lack of local jobs in the industry, but I expect there will be mining graduates from other parts of the world that will seize the opportunities out there.
Do you have a final message?
WC: Align yourself with a professional and conduct thorough due diligence. Many companies say it is "all about people", but fewer apply this principle. Whether it is an education issue, or a perceived-costs issue, when buying cheap, one needs to buy again and again.