The current economic situation and the downturn in mining have affected most regions, and South Africa is no exception. Mining is cyclical by nature and because of this mining companies will generally take a long term view on their operations, and often the first thing that happens when the industry starts to decline, is that they cut back on jobs in order to reduce costs. South Africa is no exception, but also finds itself in the unfortunate situation where there are numerous other issues that affect this battered industry, that it has to contend with as well. Labor disputes, strikes, and HIV are all factors that further negatively impact the already fragile mining industry in South Africa. It is reported that more than 25% of mine workers in South Africa are HIV positive.
The country is also known for its high unemployment rates, with almost 25% of the population and a staggering 65% of young people in the country being without work, resulting in mass poverty. Because South Africa is so reliant on the mining industry and the jobs that go along with it, the country cannot afford for the availability of jobs in this industry to decline. Employment remains one of South Africa’s most challenging issues and the country cannot afford any job shrinkage in any industry, especially the mining industry.
To add to the concerns that the mining industry faces in South Africa as a whole, it at the same time is facing a skills shortage, this is particularly prevalent in skilled positions such as Engineers and Geologists amongst other mining professionals. Because of the instability in the mining sector not only in South Africa, but also worldwide, and the uncertainly around the availability of jobs in the future, those considering Engineering or Geology as an option for a career, in recent times will often chose to rather study something else. They may also consider pursuing Engineering or Geology in a different industry given the chaos and the instability that reigns in the mining industry in South Africa. Those that are graduating in mining and have the option of working overseas are more likely to seek work outside of the country because of the reasons above. Crime is also an ever present factor and a great motivator for those who can, seeking greener pastures outside of South Africa.
Historically the mining industry in South Africa has been at the center of the economy’s development, because the country is one of the most naturally resource rich nations in the world, but the industry has also been severely hammered first by the global financial crisis in 2008 and then by the 2012 Marikana shooting of mine workers by the police. The call for nationalization of the mines has further added fuel to the fire and caused jitters throughout the sector. There is no doubt that all of these factors not only affect those working in the industry today, but will also impact on the future generations of the skills and brains that will be so desperately required to keep this industry afloat and prosperous.
The mining industry in South Africa employs roughly 1.3 million people, and many of these are unskilled workers. Word has it that roughly 10 people are dependent on the wages of each person employed. Apart from the labor unrest and talk of nationalization specific to South Africa, the worldwide downturn in mining is also likely to affect those employed in the industry negatively and to scare away those who are considering a career in mining. The deterioration of the rand is not helping either, with the South African rand sliding 20% in value during 2013. It has also become apparent that South Africa is no longer as affordable as it used to be to live in. The instability and decline of the rand, along with an economy that imports a great deal of its products mean that South Africa is no longer a cheap country to live in.
In comparison to many western countries it is still relatively affordable to live in, but property prices and rentals have also risen sharply over the last decade and it seems that the price rises across the board, are probably only going to get worse for the foreseeable future. Those living and working in South Africa are increasingly finding that their salaries are not stretching as far as they used to be able to. Because of this and the many other negative factors currently affecting the sector, earning dollars overseas will be playing heavily on the minds of those employed in the industry that are able to get jobs overseas. This being primarily the sought after skilled workers.
Despite all the negativity around the mining industry in South Africa the sector has always been and will probably always be the heartbeat of the South African economy. It will always need both skilled and unskilled workers to keep it afloat. Even with the massive unemployment issue in the country, there are skill shortages at every level in South Africa in many industries, including the mining industry, particularly amongst engineers and artisans. There are also complaints and concerns from companies that standards are dropping. The mining industry cannot sustain itself without these skills, and for this reason it is essential that mining companies in South Africa offer adequate remuneration to attract and retain engineers, geologists, artisans etc. They also need to ensure unskilled laborers are not exploited to avoid further strikes and conflict and to improve the lives of those working in the industry, and those dependent on their salaries.
So what are engineers and geologists in mining in South Africa currently earning?
According to the current results of our salary survey, it seems that Mining Engineers with less than 5 years’ experience are earning relatively low salaries compared to regions such as the USA or Canada, with a medium of R 360 000 per annum. Those with 6 or more years of experience seem to be earning similar wages as to what they could expect to earn in the USA or Canada, with a median of R 832 000 for those with 6 – 10 years’ experience, and R 1000 000 as the median for those with over 10 years’ experience. Geologists it seems are earning substantially less than those working in the USA or Canada, with a median of R 310 000 for those with less than 5 years’ experience, and a median of R 561 066 for those with 6 – 10 years’ experience.