Monday, 8 August 2011

Retention Problems Rock Ghanaian Mining

LAS VEGAS—It takes five years to train a skilled gold miner. Whole families used to stick around for generations, with the profession often passed from father to son.

No longer, said Pascal Kanbonnabah, vice president of human resources for the Ghanaian operations of AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., a global gold mining and processing corporation.

Many factors contribute to the higher mobility of Ghana’s skilled workers, including competition for labor from emerging oil and gas industries, Kanbonnabah told attendees at an afternoon Practitioner Exchange session held June 27, 2011, during the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) 63rd Annual Conference & Exposition.

New mining regulations that require “localization” of jobs previously held by expatriates exacerbate worker shortages. The government now requires that employers have plans for recruitment and training of Ghanaians, he said, and it sets timelines and quotas.

Meanwhile, the country’s industry sector grew 7.8 percent from 2006 to 2010, and the soaring price of gold created even more jobs in mining: The country’s labor force grew 33 percent during that time. Increased mining activities in surrounding countries foster more demand for experienced workers from Ghana, with its 100-year-old history of mining.

Another factor: Multinational corporations merged with and restructured Ghanaian companies. Managers had to justify every position, reducing job security for—and loyalty among—those expecting their children to work for the same company, Kanbonnabah said. Changes in education and training strategies created further cultural conflict and affected employee morale.

Recently, when four companies reported their annual turnover rates from 2006 to 2010, the results ranged from 3 percent to 40 percent a year. “These numbers are frightening” in an industry previously known to have near-zero movement, he said. About a third of the turnover was attributable to retirements. In some Ghana mining companies, more than half of the workers plan to retire in the next seven years.

As Kanbonnabah reflected on the pressures forcing change in AngloGold Ashanti’s compensation and benefits plans, he pointed out that some young workers hold the view that there is more to life than work; they might choose other careers because of public relations problems that the mining industry faces as a result of health and safety problems in some mines.

Whereas traditional rewards packages among Ghanaian mining companies were similar, today, skilled workers can shop for the best offers.

AngloGold Ashanti executives are considering a range of issues to improve retention. These include employee recognition and rewards, the image of a “great organization” that contributes to improving the environment and helps establish downstream industries, developmental and career opportunities, a collegial work environment, quality management, satisfying work and a desirable geographic location. Almost every mining company has been overhauling managerial practices to create trust between managers and teams, he added.

Specific retention initiatives include careful examination of market-based pay. Typically, total rewards systems are not popular among Ghana’s workers, he said. Workers first examine the cash, then ask what else the company offers. While mining companies traditionally provide housing and utilities for workers and families in far-flung mine locations, today some companies transport workers in from cities, so those patterns might change as well. Housing ownership plans are being considered, too. As part of retention plans, some employers cover interest payments on employee home, car and other loans.

It is no longer possible to keep employees until retirement, he noted, but it might be possible to keep them long enough to replicate their skills.

Source: SHRM Online

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