Jukskei Quarry.

Supervisory skills: the competitive edge

By Eamonn Ryan | All images by Eamonn Ryan

Inadequate training of supervisors has emerged in recent years as a cause of many section 54s issued by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR). Aspasa’s view is that for the surface mining industry to survive, it needs to develop its supervisors to groom them for management. This area has consequently become a focal point of training by Aspasa.

Skills shortages are a major factor impeding the industry and need to be addressed. Aspasa is embarking on an ambitious plan to provide comprehensive, fully accredited qualifications in quarry management. This is being done in partnership with professional training company Prisma Training Solutions, and it is currently in the process of developing curricula to be used for these purposes.

While all surface mines most likely already have a strong focus on training and skills development, the emphasis of Aspasa is to bring international best practices to South Africa, derived from its global sharing of information, and to raise awareness that the development of training to address skills shortages can yield input from fellow countries. South Africa is not alone in experiencing skills shortages — it is a global problem and one suited to being solved jointly.

Nonetheless, South Africa has its unique characteristics and challenges. All training needs to align with the Skills Development Act and be according to the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). It has the Sector Educational and Training Authority (Seta) to tap for funding and methodologies.

With poor supervisor training having been isolated by DMR’s annual report, says Aspasa director Nico Pienaar, this has become a focal point for local training. Aspasa has prepared a paper on the subject for members, which states: “It seems as if the industry has forgotten that supervision is part of management. It would appear that the welter of industrial and employment law during the late 70s and 80s did much to prompt the decline of the traditional power and authority of the established foreman. This situation has all too often led to a personal dilemma where the foreman is never certain on which side of the management shop-floor fence he sits.

“Companies frequently compound this situation by further undermining his authority through departmental specialism, shop stewards and the attitudes of senior management,” the paper states.

“Every company has its own view of where a supervisor fits into an organisation — and various job titles may apply. The term ‘supervisor’ is used to describe chargehands, foremen and supervisors, all with varying degrees of authority and responsibility. The primary source of recruitment for supervisors is still the quarry floor, but all too often the person is selected because of their technical skills rather than potential as a manager. Training for the job is usually minimal and improvement in terms and conditions of employment following a promotion can only be described as a gesture. Some supervisors still clock in and out and yet despite these factors, most middle and senior managers would insist that the supervisor is most definitely part of the management team.”

The burning question is, do supervisors see themselves as part of management? The paper states that research at the start of training courses reveals that 40% of supervisors do see themselves as part of management while 50% do not. Perhaps more realistically, 10% said they did “sometimes”.

Efficiency in terms of industrial relations, machine and labour costs, materials usage, quality and quantity of product are all determined on the quarry floor. Therefore, the industry clearly needs managers at this level who are allowed to lead, to motivate, and to take whatever actions are necessary within well-defined limits in the knowledge and confidence that they will be supported be senior management.

“Established foremen in the industry must be given the learning opportunity both on and off the job to match up new challenges. Further, the industry should take a leaf from the retail trades where trainees en route to management positions not only spend time on the shop floor but also experience first-hand the expectations and frustrations of first-line supervision. Many recruits may never make the grade of floor manager, but along the way the companies concerned provide themselves with a stock of competent first-line supervisors.”

Aspasa’s view is that for the surface mining industry to survive, it needs to develop its supervisors to ensure they can grow into management. “There are many supervisors who, because they have not had a chance, have consequently not developed. In the meantime, other employees with degrees are promoted above them. Aspasa has now developed and made available courses for supervisors.”

Springbok Quarry.
Springbok Quarry.

Learning needs analysis

Often, in the training requirements of individual quarries, it becomes apparent to training professionals that supervisory personnel are a key force. Notwithstanding this, a lack of confidence appears to exist on both sides of the manager/supervisor relationship. This uncertainty is frequently expressed by a manager feeling that his or her supervisor needed training if only to give them the confidence to manage. This uncertainty is reciprocated on the quarry floor by a supervisor expressing frustration by saying, ‘I can manage, if only he would let me,’ perhaps with an added comment that training of some kind would assist. The feeling on both sides that training is needed became Aspasa’s starting point for detailed training analysis.

“A classic training approach should be adopted which leads to a review of the role of the supervisor, job analysis, job description … a parallel line of thought colloquially known as the ‘availability method’ reviewed appropriate training offered by management training houses and Aspasa.”

At the end of the learning process, delegates would be able to:

  • Instruct members of their workforce in job requirements
  • Communicate effectively with their own workforce and with other members of management
  • Know the company procedures and practices
  • Apply company procedures (including discipline, grievance, induction, and training)
  • Know the company structure
  • Know their responsibility under the Mining Health & Safety Act
  • Have an appreciation of employment law
  • Have a working knowledge of the company training systems and of instruction techniques
  • Develop their sense of belonging and their identity within the company
  • See their functions as management jobs.

The paper notes that identification of the objectives prior to the commencement of training is of paramount importance in any field, but is probably more so in this specialised field as, at the end of training, there is no objective yardstick by which the benefits of such training can be evaluated. “Training can, however, be validated in terms of the original course objectives. For example, if upon reflection it was adjudged that the [fifth, above] objective was not valid, that is the knowledge was not required by the supervisor, measures could be taken to amend the objective or indeed remove it from the list.” If the training objectives are valid, the paper asserts, why worry about evaluation?

“The 10 objectives outlined above demonstrate that the training carried out is a balance of knowledge input (knowing the company procedures and practices); skills training (to be able to instruct the workforce in job requirements); and experiential personal development with the aim of establishing positive working behavioural attitudes both individually and within the organisation.”

Training available

Prisma Training Solutions is the primary provider for mine training and development for Aspasa members. “We provide a range of training interventions such as: Technical Training, Compliance/Mandatory Training, Safety Training, Career Development Training,” explains managing director Jacques Farmer. He adds that one cannot overemphasise the importance of doing a competency audit when drawing up a training programme for a company in the form of a human resource development (HRD) audit.

  • “There are so many things that need to be verified before, during, and after a training intervention. Allow me to list a few ‘checkboxes’ one should follow:
  • Credentials of the specific training provider selected for the training intervention should be verified:
  • Is the training provider accredited for the specific training programme?
  • Does the provider have relevant accredited facilitators / assessors / moderators for the training?
  • Learning material should be verified:
  • Is the learning pack aligned with SAQA standards, machine or product standards, and client operation standards?
  • The site where the training is conducted:
  • Does it have site approval, as this is a mandatory requirement?

“Currently in South Africa there aren’t any statistics that give an indication on ROI (return on investment) or ROE (return on equity) for skills development or training,” says Farmer.

Answering the question of how important supervision is to a surface mine and why so many section 54s are issued for this weakness, Farmer suggests that supervision is one of the single most important activities, and managers should endorse supervision as a culture of continuous development.

“On the question of why so many section 54s are issued for supervisor training, I believe this is more a human behavioural factor than a skills development issue. Employees need to understand the value of being employed in a safe, productive, sustainable environment. Employers and employees should work hand in hand to ensure a zero-harm working environment. Both employees and employer should take ownership of the working environment to ensure a safe and productive environment at all times. These statements posed are the exact reasons why theses mine receive section 54s — because they do not foster the above conditions,” says Farmer.

“There are a number of challenges to providing training to miners. There are economic reasons, with some mines being reluctant to invest as the employer says it is too expensive and they do not have the available funds for skills development, as they see production as their primary role and not skills development. It can therefore be a challenge to get the learners into the classroom when management wants to rather utilise them in the operation. On an individual level, lack of education or literacy is the most time-consuming factor, as the surface mining company is required to employee local community people, thereby limiting the client in its selection of the best suitable candidate for the job,” says Farmer.

A work scene from Lyttleton Dolomite.
A work scene from Lyttleton Dolomite.

“Most mine owners only invest the minimum as per the requirements of their social development plan. Production first and skills development last, with career development being minimal. Nonetheless, while some mine owners/mine managers are as aforementioned, we do find some mine owners/mine managers that foster a culture of continuous development. These owners and managers always get the desired results from their employees, as the employees feel that someone is investing in their future. These mines also have minimal downtime and an increase in their safe productive working environment,” suggests Farmer.

Why train?

In today’s world, developments in plant and machinery are available to all and consequently represent no competitive advantage. Aspasa’s view is that where advantage can be gained, is in the company’s workforce. Those surface mines that continue to return a profit will be those that systematically select and develop their personnel.

“Training is no longer just about courses bolstering up weak members in an organisation, with the attitude of ‘who can we spare for the course next week?’ A company needs to select people for training on the basis that training will make their good personnel better.”

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