Covid-19 has had devastating effects in South Africa. The country has recorded over 613 000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 13 308 lives lost. South Africa was put under strict social and economic lockdown on 26 March 2020. At the end of April, the government eased some restrictions. Certain key sectors, among them mining, were allowed to reopen.
Mining is an important contributor to the South African economy. It employs around 450 000 people and makes a direct contribution of 8,1% to GDP. Despite these large contributions, the sector has experienced slow growth over the past decade and now faces the harsh economic impacts of the lockdown. The pandemic is challenging long-held truths about mining. Many have had to adapt to a digitally focused approach for the first time. Although this is new territory for many mines, they’re rising to the occasion, highlighting the sector’s resilience.
Mining, COVID-19 and the Economy
Mining has been able to continue operating through the Covid-19 crisis but companies have had to adapt and evolve to the new normal. Some changes have been for the better, such as remote workforce planning and more use of automation. The pandemic has forced mines to accept digitisation sooner than expected and they are now starting to see benefits such as reduced costs and increased employee efficiency. Technology also helps to manage the risks and impacts of coronavirus by allowing for remote workforces, less on-site presence and more off-site operational control.
Under the eased regulations, mining has resumed operations at 50% capacity and must provide health and safety protection from Covid-19. Nonetheless, the government’s guidelines were not binding on employers which could present dangerous outcomes for employees. Despite recent positive results brought by surging commodity prices and cost-cutting initiatives, mining companies are feeling the pressure. Sibanye-Stillwater’s share price lost over 60% in the past months and Impala Platinum about the same, with Anglo American down by as much as 40%. With figures such as these, mines must turn to digitisation to help reduce costs and drive efficiency. This can also be achieved in the training area.
The Impact of Digital Learning and VR
Health and safety legislation in South Africa requires appropriate and effective training for all mine workers. Yet a high number of accidents and fatalities in the South African mining industry, in particular involving falls of ground, is often attributed to poor training.
Coal mining also involves a higher safety risk deep underground than in opencast pits, primarily due to problems associated with ventilation and the potential for collapse. Modern coal mines have rigorous health and safety standards and procedures, which have led to significant improvements in safety levels. Worker education and training presents an opportunity for transformation.
With virtual environments, training becomes realistic, allowing workers to live through accidents or technical procedures in a risk-free world. This is good preparation for dealing with similar incidents on-site, making the workforce more efficient and ultimately safer. Improved underground communication, automation and sophisticated training can be achieved by integrating technology into mining projects. The result is a safer working environment for everyone.
These integrations have seen the development of digital twins such as those used in Exxaro’s Belfast operations. We’re excited to see technology expanded into training and solutions such as integrated on-the-job learning to be implemented. These solutions would allow for the ultimate connected worker: tracked through wearable IoT devices, equipped with a smartphone and accessing media-rich health and safety training on the go. Miners going underground will be tracked through wearables and automatically notified before entering the lift that their training on underground safety is out of date. They could immediately access a short training video on best safety practices and complete an interactive quiz. Their manager would be notified that training is completed. All would happen in a matter of minutes. While we’re confident that these solutions will be adopted in the future, mines can already use proven digital methods to improve health and safety training.
In the search for alternative and improved training approaches, attention has fallen on virtual reality (VR) technology as a potential solution. VR has found acceptance in a number of industries as an effective training method for workplace activities such as health and safety as well as asset maintenance simulation training. It results in better process efficiency.
According to PWC’s study into the effectiveness of VR training, 40% of v-learners saw an improvement in confidence compared to classroom learners, and 35% acted better than e-learners on what they’ve learnt. The study also indicates that V-learners were four times more focused during training than their e-learning peers and 1.5 times more focused than classroom colleagues. It should be considered as part of a blended learning curriculum when training specific types of skills. Combining the classroom, e-learning and v-learning provides employees with an industry-leading approach.
More Than Just VR
VR is just one option. Other digital learning tools such as motion graphics, photogrammetry and gamified assessments drastically improve pass rates and knowledge retention. We believe that while these digital tools are vital to an effective program, learners should be able to understand the content and that is why we advocate for content translations and the use of vernacular overlays when using video. These tools have already seen great traction across several mines throughout the African continent, with the most noticeable being the Silver Loerie Award-winning MyNexxt Exxaro induction programme developed by WinWin International and Accenture.
The MyNexxt program from the coal mining giant aims to support and upskill their 15 000 employees for a digital future.Exxaro implemented the learning and development platform at its Grootegeluk and Belfast coal operations in 2019 and have seen returns in excess of R1,9 million. This use of cutting-edge technology has earned Exxaro, Accenture and WinWin the prestigious Loeries Award for their employee learning platform.
Connectivity Is No Longer A Limitation
Many organisations want to pursue digital learning opportunities, but in Africa a lack of infrastructure is a stark reality. This lack of access to electricity and, more commonly, lack of access to data and connectivity have made media-rich learning programmes almost impossible. Until now.
The cost of micro and cloud computing has declined significantly over the past decade. We can now deliver media-rich immersive learning to your most remote learners with IWIN Go.
IWIN Go is a completely offline learning solution allowing teams in remote locations with low or no connectivity and even no electricity to access digital learning libraries. With this device, mines in remote areas can digitise induction and training programmes. It can also reach beyond the mine, right into the surrounding community.
With recent changes to the mining charter as well an increased pressure from government and shareholders, mining houses have had to prioritise their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts. With data-less learning through IWIN Go, mines can offer education to local communities and reap the benefits.
Mining should make the most of 4th Industrial Revolution technology. It can make mines safer and more efficient while having a positive impact on the communities they serve.
We’re excited to be on this journey of transformation with industry leaders. Through collaboration, we can empower employees and organisations to maximise their potential.
WinWin is a fully integrated strategic communications and people engagement agency.
Leveraging our skills and expertise in design, content, digital, videography, motion
graphics and 3D animation, we partner with experts in your business to develop
engaging and accessible solutions that are customised for any of your business
needs. Simply put, we bring the adventure back into learning.
If you have a project in mind or simply want to learn more about how your organisation can take advantage of immersive learning, please get in contact with our team!