Seodeico speaks to GBR about the labour situation in the DRC mining sector and how to benefit from and foster local skills.
Sodeico was established in 1987 and offers recruitment, outsourcing, payroll, consultancy, training, and HR solutions. How important is the mining industry as a client to the company andhow do you aid in the recruitment process?
MR: The importance of mining to our company is like every other company in the country given that the industry is the main contributor to the GDP of the country. Our advantage is that we are local and can assist with the difficulties related to the cultural differences that multinational companies operating in DRC might face. We also have strong knowledge of the market and can help to match the needs of the client with the skills that are available. Our mining clients mainly make use of our outsourcing services and are now beginning to use more of our recruitment solutions. The local workforce here is mostly semi-skilled, but when moving to a different stage of the project cycle there is a need for more skilled manpower. If we compare the skills available here with expatriates, we still face difficulties in sourcing a local high-skilled workforce.
What needs to happen to create a more readily available workforce here in the DRC for the mining industry?
MR: Unless we create a middle class in DRC, the risk is that we will continue on the current path. Although it is ultimately a governmental issue to train people in the country so that they fit the needs of companies coming from abroad, we need to work together to see how we can match needs and skills. Even in developed countries, when young people come out of universities they do not typically match with the needs of the markets. Specifically when we talk about the mining sector, large companies need to assist to see how they can bring future employees into projects at an early stage to develop the experience of the young workforce.
DM: We believe that education is the key and this why Sodeico has started a project that we call Sodeico Academy. Our main objective is to create high vocational education at the academy with different specializations, and mining is one of them. One of our first projects is to do a mining academy in either Kolwezi, Likasi, or Lubumbashi. High vocational education typically comprises of 60% practical and 40% theoretical training depending on the skill. We have approached mining houses to encourage the companies to be involved and create internships so that they can receive directly the skilled talents that will come out of the academy.
When will the Mining Academy launch and how can the mining community become involved in the project?
DM: This is a short term solution to the larger problem that is our education system in DRC, but we hope to launch the Academy during the first trimester of 2018, starting with three critical skills, including operators, blasting specialists and welders. We will also work with subcontractors to receive the equipment needed to train our students. The Academy allows them a direct bridge with their clients. It creates a synergy between all of the companies to work together towards the same goal and that is to create a supply of skilled personnel to extract the country’s enormous mineral potential in a manner that benefits everyone.
How do you expect increasing levels of automation in the mining industry to impact the labor force here in the DRC?
MR: Automation tends to be a higher threat to unskilled workers because it is difficult for them to adapt to the skills needed in other jobs or sectors. It is important to see the trends coming and try to see what will be needed. We have so many issues in the DRC that unfortunately that is not the highest priority, but it is something the government may need to consider given the importance of the mining sector here.
CB: When you speak of automation, loss of human labor is the first thought many people consider. However, usually automation has a many-fold impact, including an increase in productivity that translates to higher profits. When companies start earning more because of technology, it allows them to invest in other sectors and provide job opportunities to other people. The decrease in accidents and personal injury is another benefit. The decrease in labor costs of companies is certainly a visible outcome, but it does not necessarily mean that people will lose jobs because it can ultimately give an opportunity to invest in other projects where people can seek employment.
In terms of outsourcing jobs, how have you seen the trend towards employing expatriates evolve in the mining sector here in DRC?
CB: When the prices of the key commodities dropped, mining companies were forced by the economic conditions to cut their costs and hence were beginning to consider “repats” workforce; these are skilled Congolese living and working abroad who are looking for opportunities back home. We have also seen mining companies having to part with expatriates (cost saving exercise) to replace them by local Congolese workforce, which implies that we do have a certain level of skills but maybe not sufficient for the demand of the market. However, these guys need to be given a chance to assume positions that were until now mostly occupied by expatriates workers. Otherwise, where is the transfer of skills?
A company like ours is ready and equipped to assist mining companies in looking or head-hunting for Congolese people abroad. We have a very wide network that we can easily leverage through our different partners to lure these individuals to the mining companies back home.
What final message would you send to our readership about the opportunities in the DRC and the role Sodeico intends to play in realizing these opportunities?
DM: We all know the potential of the DRC and there is a lot of money to be made by the mining companies here. In order for us to build a better future for ourselves and the Congolese people, we need to draw guidelines and better enforce our laws to really work on the skill transfer between ourselves and the people coming here to work. There are a lot of people that have the skills, but do not have the chance to showcase them because mining companies may have policies in place to use only expatriate labor. We believe that Sodeico can be the bridge to demonstrate that the people that do have the skills here. We are also working abroad with Congolese diaspora associations, many of which wish to return and bring their skills and familiarity with international standards.
MR: When it comes to the reality of investing in DRC, many people see the opportunity but they are reluctant to invest because it is expensive to do business here, in addition to the insecurity in the environment. At the same time, we want to launch an appeal to private businesses to examine these opportunities more closely because companies like Sodeico are here to assist them in navigating these barriers they might encounter.