By Petronella Sibeene
Almost a century since the first diamond was discovered in Namibia, limited skills especially in the area of marine diamond mining remain a challenge, said Managing Director of De Beers Marine Namibia, Otto Shikongo.
Shikongo says there is a need for both Government and the private sector to invest in people so that they drive business.
“The human resources pool, specifically in the field of marine diamond mining, is limited. Skills that are required at De Beers Marine Namibia are highly marketable locally and internationally,” he said.
This is crucial especially that over the years, land-based mining has gradually scaled down and marine mining has emerged as one of the best options to pursue if the country is to ensure the diamond extractive sector continues to grow substantially.
The Minister of Mines and Energy Erkki Nghimtina concurred with Shikongo, saying that land-based resources have had a very good run of production for almost 100 years. He however warned that land-based recovery will see a decline over the next few years making marine diamond mining the future of the industry.
Given the operations of the industry, Shikongo said, De Beers Marine Namibia introduced development programmes that will cater for development opportunities in technical and non-technical fields.
Career paths and development initiatives introduced include engineering and deck cadets, trainee technicians, marine electricians, trainee production drillers, trainee crawler pilots, apprentices, officers on full-time studies and ratings in training.
De Beers Marine Namibia also collaborates with various business schools where leaders in the company receive skills training.
During the period 2003 to 2006, investment in human resource development amounted to N$84 million.
The company employs over 670 women and men.
“These development programmes are aligned to the continued production growth of De Beers Marine Namibia and compliance with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-Keeping for Seafarers,” said Shikongo.
Although he did not elaborate, apart from concerns regarding skill shortages in the industry, Shikongo said fuel pieces remain a challenge especially that the operations in the industry are energy intensive.
Foreign exchange (Forex) fluctuations equally affect the industry considering that 100 percent of the diamond revenue is in foreign currency.
“The mineral resource we mine is another challenge to us as it is 120 metres deep under the ocean. The marine environment is naturally harsh and unforgiving,” he added.
Despite the challenges, the company has managed to increase production from a mere 506 000 carats in 2002 to over a million carats in 2006. Production for 2007 is expected to exceed the 2006 mark.
Nghimtina said the diamond industry remains the country’s economic backbone.
Because of this, the status quo calls for a combination of high productivity, highly skilled and highly motivated labour, modern technology, local linkages, international partnerships, effective infrastructure and a supportive government.
Both Nghimtina and Shikongo were speaking during the ‘De Beers Marine Namibia Committed to Development’ function and ‘Diamond Award for Science’ ceremony held in the capital recently.