Project management is useful to the mining industry, as it organises a team of specialists, such as geologists, environmental specialists, mining engineers and processing specialists, who need to collaborate to successfully complete projects, says process engineering design services provider Swartz Technical Consulting (STC) founder Bronwyn Swartz.
STC was established in 2013 and specialises in process engineering with regard to scoping and feasibility studies, as well as operational reviews in the mining industry. The company offers design and operational services in platinum group metals (PGM) processing, chromite processing and upgrading, gold beneficiation, uranium processing and copper beneficiation, explains Swartz.
“It is this integration of many specialised disciplines that requires project managers in the mining environment to be knowledgeable to influence the different professionals within the team for the successful completion of the project.”
“The beneficiation of resources, such as gold, copper and platinum, is a complex sequence of events which are executed by specialists. The process starts with specifying the mineralisation and its localised area of occurrence,” she adds.
Swartz says the process of defining whether a planned mine is economically feasible is demanding, which entails quantifying all costs and the associated revenue that can be realised upon project implementation. Project management plays an important role in ensuring that all areas of the project are quantified at the correct time and in the correct sequence.
Swartz says that STC implements four project management processes when executing projects – initiation, planning, execution and closure.
“All projects start with communication between the company and the client to understand the project requirements and how best to align the resources accordingly. At this initial phase, it is important to identify the specific outcomes of the project and understand how it fits into the overall strategic intent of the client.
“During the planning phase, outcomes are detailed into measurable activities over a defined period, which is captured in an overall execution master plan. Regular monitoring of the planned activities occurs, with corrective measures implemented when they are needed. Project closure entails the handing over of relevant documentation to the client and sign off on the contractual performance agreements, explains Swartz.
Swartz says the South African project management industry is experiencing a shortage of skilled project managers.
“As with all sectors requiring skilled workers, the project management industry has a shortage of engineers. Typically, engineers would be trained as project engineers and then moved into project management roles as their skills and depth of experience develop. A shortage of experienced engineers who have management flair impacts negatively on the availability of seasoned professionals that have developed into project managers.”
She further adds that reasons for the shortage of skilled project managers in South Africa include there not being enough learners taking mathematics and physical science at secondary school level to be prepared for an eventual career in project management, and skilled professionals leaving South Africa to look for job opportunities abroad. This is due to the perception that there are limited opportunities in the country, which, in turn, depletes the country of its much-needed project management skills.
Swartz says government and the private sector should focus resources on promoting careers in the built environment, such as project management, to learners. “The skilled project management professionals who have emigrated should also be encouraged to return and use their project management experience to help in growing South Africa’s economy.”