Semafo’s Mana mine, Burkina Faso | Courtesy of Semafo
The landscape of the mining industry has changed. More Canadian companies are joining forces with international majors, and even smaller operations are shifting their focus to developing projects abroad. With Iamgold, Kinross, Teranga Gold and Semafo operating in West Africa, the following countries are becoming hot spots for gold, iron ore and bauxite: Senegal, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Cote d`Ivoire, Mauritania and Mali. And as Canadian mining companies set their sights from the mountains of northern Quebec to the mountains of West Africa as prime locations for new developments, the time is increasingly ripe for CIM to expand into these new frontiers.
“Mining is international in scope,” says Jean Vavrek, executive director at CIM. “If we want CIM to stay relevant, we have to be global.”
Vavrek, who is one of the people at the helm of the development of CIM’s international strategy, says West Africa is one of CIM’s high-priority regions. On his first visit, to speak at the 3ème Forum de Dakar sur la RSE, a CSR forum held in March 2011, Vavrek identified a wealth of opportunities for collaboration between local entities and the Canadian mining industry. “It makes a lot of sense for us to be in West Africa because of the existing presence of Canadian mining, a strong Trade Commissioner Service office, and the francophone connection,” he explains.
CIM’s presence in West Africa brings not only opportunities for our members, by providing a new market for Canadian suppliers and educational institutions, but also helps elevate the industry by communicating best practices to an emerging mining region.
“There is significant appetite for CIM’s expertise and experience,” says Carlos Rojas-Arbulú, head of the commercial & investment program for West Africa at the Embassy of Canada to Senegal. According to Rojas-Arbulú, Canada is uniquely positioned to meet the needs of West Africa’s rapidly growing extractive sector: “We do not have a colonial past, so we are well-received. We have the expertise and the know-how in the extractive sector, and we can communicate in French. This combination of factors means a partnership can really move forward.”
Hungry for knowledge
While mining initiatives in West Africa are plentiful, skilled workers are in short supply. “Canadian mining investors tell us they often cannot find enough qualified labour to meet the demands of their own projects,” Rojas-Arbulú points out. “Companies want to hire more locally as part of their corporate social responsibility considerations, and local governments want it, but unfortunately, in many rural areas where mining projects take place, skilled labour is scarce.”
As a result, mining companies must bring in people from the capital city, neighboring country or another continent – an approach that is not sustainable because it is expensive for Canadian investors, it does not meet the targets of local governments, and it creates malaise with local populations that expect a significant portion of jobs will benefit their communities
“The big challenge today is to find skilled labourers,” says Mamoudou Diallo, general manager of Semafo Guinea. “With all of the mining projects being launched, there is a need for local training so when these projects reach maturity there will be local manpower available. If we do not find a way to involve the local population there may be a risk of conflict.”
CIM has already begun to play an active role in capacity-building for West Africa’s mining sector. In January 2012, the Institute signed a memorandum of understanding with the Centre Africain d’Études Supérieures en Gestion, a regional management school that operates under the umbrella of the Union Économique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine. Among other things, CIM and CESAG will collaborate to develop mining modules and a study curriculum that would better align with what the mining sector requires in terms of skilled labourers.
“This initiative could be very strong for CIM because it is a French speaking part of the world,” says Nathan Stubina, vice-president international at CIM and manager of the Barrick Technology Centre at Barrick Gold.