By Joseph Kirschke, News Editor-Mining

A total of 284 apprentices have graduated or are enrolled in Newmont’s program in Ghana.
A total of 284 apprentices have graduated or are enrolled in Newmont’s program in Ghana.

Since Portuguese navigators first arrived in the 15th century, mining, production and export of gold have been integral to Ghana’s history. Through the later christening of a “Gold Coast” by British colonialists and the emergence of sub-Saharan Africa’s first sovereign nation in 1957, Ghana today also hosts the continent’s No. 2 reserves of the ore.

Yet as in all too many developing nations, Ghana’s gold mining business, representing 90% of 2011 mineral exports—and $2.7 billion by Q3 2013—is not always a kind one. Fatalities from artisanal mining have been toxic as its mercury, while unrest involving illegal Chinese miners culminated in 169 deportations to their mainland last year. “Gold is a curse to this nation!” thundered a columnist in The Chronicle, a local newspaper, shortly thereafter.

But many elements of Ghana’s mining culture—in particular Accra’s ratification of U.N. International Labor Organization (ILO) standards—reflect positive clarity, too. Others include worker apprenticeship programs at Newmont Mining Corp.’s Ahafo and Akyem projects—samples of how, via smart Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), profits and prosperity are sparkling hand-in-hand in one of Africa’s most mature democracies.

The apprenticeships date back to 2004 when 722 local men and women joined the construction phase of the Ahafo mine ahead of Q3 2006’s first production, said Adiki Ayitevie, communications director for Newmont Africa. The program was soon upgraded to a “Semi-Skilled Metals Construction Labor Program,” wherein 324 young men and women were trained in metal working and safety; the World Bank’s International Finance Corp. (IFC) investment wing noted Ahafo was already ahead of schedule, given strong community engagement.

Its need was underscored by London-based think-tank Chatham House’s 2013 report, Revisiting Approaches to Community Relations in Extractive Industries, observing that “conflicts often erupt as a project shifts from one phase into another.” This year’s study by the CSR Initiative at Harvard’s Kennedy School went one step further—tallying average community conflict-related losses at major projects upward of $20 million weekly.

Officials at the world’s second-biggest gold miner steered far from such narratives, by all accounts, with the program being an important element. In Q3 2005, the endeavor formally evolved into an “apprenticeship program” through company Learning and Development, Sustainability and External Relations, and Human Resources departments. Beginning Q4 2010, added Ayitevie, the program extended to Newmont’s second Akyem mine where production ensued in Q4 2013; to date, $3 million has been invested in each program.

Offerings empower apprentices with specialized skills for future mine expansions, self-performance alignments and community social license commitments, noted Ayitevie. Participants, accordingly, supplement recruitment shortfalls, provide a manpower float to support training and staff skills, and contribute training and development for watershed communities in mine area operations.

At $25,000 per student over four years, semi-skilled job hands from local communities are chosen for fixed plant mechanical, fixed plant electrical, mine maintenance and process operations apprenticeship programs, the company said. Each one gains mechanical and theoretical guidance before receiving City and Guilds of London Institute and Newmont certificates. In all, 284 apprentices have finished or are enrolled; Newmont covers stipends, teaching materials, personal protective equipment and other practical gear.

Since the Ahafo mine’s first graduates all completed work in 2008, each one was hired in process maintenance capacities; currently, three female process operators and 16 female maintenance apprentices are enrolled. Altogether, 138 apprentice grads work at Ahafo and Akyem—eight as supervisors and 30 as lead hands. Both operations comprise 20% of Newmont’s global core assets.

In addition, company officials enroll young Ghanaians in two-year Emerging Talent Programs (ETPs), initiatives Denver-based Newmont runs worldwide to allow students to excel post-academia. Ghana’s ETP began in 2010 with 20 graduates from prestigious universities; candidates are selected by interviews and coursework quality.

Those accepted may fulfill their mandatory National Service duty in their first ETP year, then working under contract in the second, with salary and benefits. Throughout, each participant gains cross-functional experience through rotations and mentoring; since inception, 51 public and private grads have completed the ETP while Newmont supplied the region’s University of Mines and Technology educational software.

By tapping local talent for direct jobs over more costly expatriate employees, Newmont Ghana has a sustainable edge, according to Wayne Dunn, professor of practice in CSR at McGill University and president and founder of the CSR Training Institute.

Savings are indeed critical in a volatile world economy generating unpredictable market demands—with Ghana’s gold exports plummeting 16% year-on-year from Q1 through Q3 2013. “The industry has struggled, and there have been squeezes,” said Dunn. “It’s great when multiple interests line up;” government statistics indicate only 5% of GDP was spent on education in the past decade.

Still, public perceptions haven’t been perfect. In May, Newmont representatives held one of their most recent dialogues with Akyem area youth and local officials over job availability concerns. “We are very aware we cannot employ everyone who wants a job,” said Pascal Kanbonnabah, acting regional human resources vice president. “We continue looking to serve for additional economic development;” 43% of staff, he noted, is Ghanaian.

But Newmont gets very high scores in all-around employment sustainability not least according to CSRHub, a website that rates 8,900 companies via data mining for 135 industries worldwide. Of the 74 extractive sector companies surveyed
last year, “Newmont has a particularly strong score of 65 in the employees’ area,” the metrics site reported. “This is due to a high score in training, health and safety—well above the industry average of 34.”

George Anim Dankyi, a graduate from nearby Afosu, said statistics sometimes neglect the full picture. “Initially, I was enrolled as a mine maintenance mechanic, but later become a welder,” he said, “which means if I am no longer working for Newmont in the future, I can open my own workshop.”

Dankyi is happy with his current posting, however: “I have been employed by Newmont since my training and, compared with my previous working life,” he added, “there has been much improvement.”

“I can now take good care of my family.”

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