LeadUP: UP alumni address 4IR leadership in mining in online discussion

Posted on July 13, 2021

A recent online discussion hosted by the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Alumni Relations Office focused on the role of leadership in the context of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) in mining and related industries.

Part of the LeadUP: Alumni Thought Leadership series of virtual talks, this ‘In Conversation with the VC’ chat was moderated by Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UP, and featured alumni in the mining fields as well as other experts. The discussion was also part of the Department of Mining Engineering’s 60th anniversary celebrations. 

The panel featured the following experts: Peter Steenkamp, Chief Executive Officer at Harmony Gold Mining; Nozipho Mashinini-Dlamini, Technical Services Manager at Thungela Resources; André Joubert, Chief Executive of the Ferrous Division of African Rainbow Minerals; Henry Laas, Chief Executive Officer at Murray & Roberts; Tarusha Moonsamy, Engagement and Project Manager; and Prof Ronny Webber-Youngman, Head of the Department of Mining Engineering at UP. 

Mashinini-Dlamini addressed the issue of automation and how this has been of benefit to women entering the industry. “From an infrastructure’s perspective, we can agree that mining has come a long way; mechanisation has been part of our journey for many years. In the past few years, digitisation and automation has levelled the playing field and stopped it from being [only about] the physical capability but the mental capability – and that was a plus for women joining the industry.”

The future is also promising autonomous workforces, she added. “Autonomous equipment also guarantees that it will be a lot safer for women entering the industry.”

“The 4IR has created more roles and opportunities for women to excel,” added Moonsamy. “Thinking forward into the future, I think women should adapt and embrace the changes that the 4IR is bringing.”

Prof Webber-Youngman said that leadership development should be started earlier, adding that because mining industries will become more dynamic in future, people who can lead effectively in that environment are needed. “UP’s Mining Engineering Department has identified a need for earlier leadership development intervention. Some workers in the mining environment noted that one thing that is lacking are skills to deal with high pressure and a stress-related environment. That is how UP’s Mining Engineering Leadership Academy came about 10 years ago. Leadership can be developed, but in many ways, people do not know how to develop their own skills. This academy teaches them how to develop and identify these and put them into practice where they work.”

Asked if an increased emphasis on leadership skills will help individuals working in mining and related industries to better cope with work demands, Joubert said South African mining needs 4IR technology. “Over the past decade, mining productivity decreased by 8%. However, the focus should not be on technology but also on culture, leadership development and upscaling employees. This process will ensure a safer, healthier environment in mining industries. The 4IR will enable us to develop new operating models with real information to make quick decisions. Also, this will help us turn research into globally competitive programmes.”

Steenkamp said to excel in the mining space, the environment will have to have individuals who are both capable leaders and who are tech-savvy. “At the core, we are engineers; we need to be at the speed of cutting-edge technology. It is important to register as a professional engineer and to keep yourself up to date with challenges and changes in the profession. It is equally important to develop skills as a leader, and the best way to do so is through experience, leadership studies and mentorship. Leadership is about the ability to create followers.”

Leaders in the mining space must adopt and practise 4IR [technologies] for improved efficiency and safer mining operations, said Laas. “But at these early stages of the 4IR, it is going to require conscious leadership decisions to make a start – if we are too slow, we will fall behind our competitors.”

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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