AAMEG Africa Awards 2021: Workforce and Industry Development Nominee – Base Resources
By AAMEG | 29 September 2021
THE TOLIARA APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAM
Base Resources is an Australian based, African focused, mineral sands producer and developer.
Base Resources was founded and listed on the ASX in October 2008. The Company listed on the UK’s AIM in 2013.
The Company operates the Kwale Operation in Kwale County, Kenya, and is developing the Toliara Project in Toliara, Madagascar. Base Resources produces a suite of mineral sands products namely ilmenite, rutile, and zircon.
Base Resources is recognised as a leader in the African resources industry with a track record of excellence in safety, community engagement and environmental stewardship.
The Toliara apprentice program, and wider workforce development programs for the Toliara Project, were conceived following construction of the Kwale Operation in Kenya. Due to pronounced shortages of semi-skilled and skilled professionals in the Kwale region at the time, many Kwale locals were not suited for initial construction employment opportunities.
As such, Base Resources invested heavily in local workforce training and development in Kenya. A significant learning from the success of this was the importance of prioritising similar programs in support of local employment during the pre-construction phase of any future projects.
Base Resources acquired the Toliara Project in Madagascar in 2018. Due to the lack of other large scale mining or industrial operations in the Toliara region, it quickly became apparent that there would not be a large enough pool of local semi-skilled or skilled professionals to support the construction or operation of the project. A Toliara workforce development program was established with a key element being the identification and recruitment of between 20-30 young Malagasy men and women to participate in a two-year apprenticeship program located at our Kwale Operation in Kenya. The objective was to align the completion of the Toliara apprentice program to coincide with the commissioning of the Toliara mine.
To meet our goal of creating benefit for the local communities in which we operate, participants had to be recruited from specific local Toliara communes, be aged between 19-25 years of age and pass multiple pre-training screening assessments. Out of 500 candidates on our potential employee database, 50 were shortlisted to proceed to English language training. After several months of language training, team building exercises and a series of assessments, a group of 24 students were selected for the program (16 male and 8 female) and left for Kenya to commence the apprenticeship program.
The biggest challenge has been the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent international travel restrictions, forcing the cancellation of the apprentices’ scheduled home visits. This was particularly difficult for many of these young men and women as it was often their first time away from home and family is very important in Malagasy culture. To address this, Base Resources provided access to mobile phones and other technology in both Kenya and Madagascar so that the apprentices and their family members could video chat on a regular basis.
The other significant challenge was the language barrier as very few of the candidates could speak English, which is the operating language for all Base Resources sites. To combat this, Base Resources provided each apprentice with over 500 hours of English language training so that they could attain sufficient English language proficiency to complete their apprenticeships.
The two-year apprenticeship program commenced on 1 July 2019, running until 30 June 2021.
The Malagasy Government’s Plan Emergence Madagascar (PEM) is a nationwide economic reform agenda which aims to address longstanding development problems, grow the economy, and improve living standards.
The PEM identifies several priority areas including job creation, the empowerment of women and development of the country’s mining potential. The Toliara apprentice program addresses these objectives while also aligning with broad national and community expectations around workforce development.
Some of the most vocal supporters of the Toliara Project are community and government leaders who can see that it will create significant employment opportunities in the region and as such they have firmly supported the Toliara apprentice program. This included a large event hosted by the national government when the apprentices left Madagascar for Kenya.
Communities in the Toliara region were asked to recommend applicants for the apprentice program, with Base Resources giving preference to those residing in the more immediate environs of the future mine and port facility with progressively lower priority given to those living further away.
To address specific skill shortages, the apprentice program focused on the high need skill sets of electrical, automotive, and industrial mechanics.
Upon completion, apprentices received internationally recognised certification which will support their employment in Toliara, or elsewhere across Madagascar if they do not secure employment with the Toliara Project.
Industry and Workforce Capability Development
Using learnings from Kwale and knowing similar skill sets would be needed at Toliara, the Toliara apprentice program was targeted towards students gaining skills in the areas of electrical, automotive and industrial mechanics. To gain the theoretical and practical expertise required, the program was designed to have two components: a practical component on site at our producing mineral sands operation in Kenya, and a theoretical component from the Kenyan National Industrial Training Authority (NITA). Thus, the Toliara apprentice program required a unique partnership between NITA and Base Resources’ Malagasy and Kenyan operations.
Upon arrival in Kenya, the apprentices started three months of pre-deployment training at the Kwale Operations apprentice training centre. During this time the students continued with English training, completed relevant inductions and safety training, and learnt the basics of tool safety. After the initial three months the apprentices started on the job departmental rotations as well as continuing their training at the on-site apprentice training centre. In January 2020 the apprentices commenced training at NITA in Mombasa as per the internationally recognised Kenyan National Qualifications Framework.
As a result of Base Resources and NITA’s long standing partnership, NITA agreed to change the course structure to condense on-campus learning so students could spend more time on practical skills training at the mine site.
This theoretical learning, coupled with training in an operating mine site under the guidance and mentorship of departmental supervisors and training teams (both Kenyan and expatriate) resulted in eight apprentices successfully completing a Certificate III in Electrical, eight completing a Certificate III in Automotive and eight completing a Certificate III in Industrial Mechanics. The apprentices also completed emergency response training which includes firefighting and first aid.
The value of these qualifications is significant to both the individual and the community. As the qualifications are internationally recognised, they can be used across Madagascar or in other countries, and as the certificates are in acknowledged skill shortage areas the apprentices will be able to use these skills to gain employment in a variety of industries. Many of the apprentices have stated that if they are not able to secure employment with the Toliara Project that they will seek to pass on their new expertise to fellow Malagasy in the Toliara region.
The Toliara apprentice program adapted various elements of a traditional program to encourage successful outcomes for participants, including:
- A greater focus on structured hands-on training, developed in partnership with industry and a technical college.
- The awarding of internationally recognised qualifications, the only program in Madagascar to do so.
- The physical relocation of the 24 apprentices to another country where they could learn in a more suitable environment. This required a considerable commitment, from the apprentices who had to relocate overseas for two years, and from Base Resources who invested over US$850,000 in the program.
- Condensing the theoretical classroom component of the program to allow for more practical tool time at Kwale Operations and to reduce the stresses on apprentices of learning theoretical concepts in a second or third language.
- Delivering the program at an operational mine site, allowing the apprentices to benefit from a larger number of mentors and trainers, including both Kenyan and expatriate staff.
- Including all apprentices in major shutdowns and mining moves, regardless of their work area, therefore giving them invaluable real-world industrial work experience.
- A focus on developing valuable skills that are recognized as being in deficit in Madagascar, supporting the apprentices to gain employment upon completion.
Other Useful Supporting Information
Image: The Minister for Youth and Sport farewells the apprentices at a ceremony in Madagascar.