ZAMBIA’S Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS) data shows that youths (people aged 15-35years old) make up about 36 percent of the country’s population. That represents the largest number of youth as a share of population in the country’s history, according to United Nations Population Fund (UNPF).
And the UN projects Zambia’s youth population will remain between 34-37 percent of the population for the next 20 years, while the World Bank estimates 56 percent of the local labour force are youths and this is expected to increase between now and 2035.
Despite this, young people remain largely unemployed, even though Government has created multiple policy frameworks aimed at addressing youth unemployment and encouraged increased participation of young people in the country’s economic development.
The private sector has a role to complement these efforts by introducing sustainable youth empowerment strategies of our own.
Having a youthful population gives us a huge opportunity to create tangible and sustainable development for Zambia by emphasising youth empowerment now.
At First Quantum Minerals, we believe that youth employment is one of the key benefits a mine can deliver in terms of social and economic impact in its project area. We have committed time and resources to skills training and entrepreneurial programmes to support local communities for long-term sustainable prosperity.
Against this backdrop FQM has remained committed to fighting youth unemployment, with a total investment of over US$50 million in education and skills training and community development programmes to date. Some of these programmes have been focused on youths with a view to equipping them with knowledge and skills necessary to identify and exploit economic opportunities in the country.
SUPPORTING LOCAL ECONOMY
From the time FQM began operations in Zambia, we have consistently developed and implemented strategies and programmes that build capacity in local communities to enhance their ability to benefit from economic opportunities associated with mining development.
We believe every company is only as strong as its people. For this reason, we actively seek to involve local communities and other relevant stakeholders in our business and build effective, long-term and mutually beneficial relationships. Our structure is set out to attract and retain the best talent at every level of our organisation and provide them with the resources they need to succeed in their career.
FQM – through its Trident Foundation at Kalumbila and Kansanshi Foundation in Solwezi – has aligned its sustainability programmes with every one of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs) in a move that makes it one of the leading firms in terms of best practice in private investment in youth empowerment both locally and globally.
The overall goal of our sustainability initiatives is to raise the quality of life of our employees, their families and communities by improving access to quality education, health facilities, local business development, livelihood projects and sponsorship of various sports programmes.
This strategy enables FQM to conduct business in a way that provides long-term economic opportunities and supports social well-being.
We have shown ourselves to be a popular and reliable employer, with about 7,840 direct employees of whom 1,641 are youths. A further 5,160 people are employed by the mine’s contractors. In line with FQM’s local employment policy – which gives preference to people within its area of operations – 1,449 of the mine’s employees are from North-Western Province out of a total direct workforce of 2,700 at our Sentinel mine at Kalumbila, while Kansanshi, employs 5,140 direct employees, with a further 3,360 hired by contractors.
Our focus, however, is not just to train youths to work in the mine; our goal is to equip them with skills to work in other sectors to benefit the general economy.
Over 35,000 farmers have been trained in conservation farming, of which 2,500 are currently on our farming input support programme and in addition, 1,000 are youth farmers who did not complete school and are on our accelerated support programme.
INVESTING IN THE FUTURE
Despite receiving a record number of more than 10,300 job applications in the last five years, mainly from young people, FQM has been hampered in its recruitment efforts by a lack of practical skill among the clear majority of applicants. This is part of the reason the mine has dedicated resources towards building a comprehensive youth skills development programme already helping to improve operations in the mining firm’s projects and boost its workforce.
To date, we have invested over US$1 million in education infrastructure, scholarships and education programmes. The investment has facilitated the construction of 18 new community classrooms, 11 new staff houses for teachers and over 100,000 school text books distributed to local schools.
In addition, we have 61 primary and 40 secondary school scholarships underway and a nutrition programme that provides 6,000 school children with a healthy meal every day. The scholarship packages extend from early childhood, through to tertiary education at the Solwezi Trades Training Institute (SOTTI).
In 2012, FQM, in collaboration with the Ministry of General Education, launched ‘Kwambula,’ a three-year apprenticeship programme designed to help high school graduates move into trades such as power electrical, welding, metal fabrication and mechanical skills.
We have also introduced training and mentorship programmes for school teachers in using Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) at four government schools.
In addition, we have 93 youths on vocational scholarships and internships in the initiative’s fifth year.
We are proud to note that the average school grades in four target schools has increased from 40 to 56 percent between 2016 and 2017 because of these initiatives.
Besides giving more jobs to locals, we are offering our staff training opportunities with a view to empowering them and improving their contribution to the mine. This is something that we plan to keep up for the foreseeable future.
While it is the government’s role to foster an environment which encourages private sector investment, only the private sector can create real jobs.
Once invested, the private sector can only ensure that quality training and skills enhancement takes place if it is unhindered in its ability to employ and retain qualified and skilled expatriates to perform such training – whether at school level, artisan level or middle and senior management levels.
We believe skills and knowledge play a vital role in combating joblessness while also driving sustainable development. And who are better to have these skills and knowledge than the group that will eventually be in control of the country’s economy – the youth?
The author is a community relations co-ordinator of FQM’s Trident Foundation.