By Anne Gichuhi, Mining Engineer-Assistant, Drilling & Blasting Logistics, Vastu Co. Ltd
Who ever imagined this kind of disruption to the mining sector? Mining is classified under heavy industry, if at all my lectures at Taita Taveta University (Kenya), the country’s premier training centre for mining and mineral processing engineers, served me well. I also took the geospatial units under Engineering & Mine Surveying up to the final year purposely to equip myself with the field-oriented skills in mining engineering as opposed to the factory-oriented domain of mineral processing. The President’s visit to Taita Taveta County on 16.10.2020 to witness, among other innovations, the trending ground-based and airborne geospatial applications for the extractive industry further illuminated the crucial position of the mining sector in national economic development.
In late 2019, when initial coronavirus cases were announced in China, Kenyans were not aware of the pending danger or shifts that would follow, complete with forced social distancing and disruptions to their daily business and work routines. As an alumna of Taita Taveta University, I have been participating in the youth mentorship forums and keenly following the updates on youth and global awareness as posted regularly on the Impact Borderless Digital (IBD) website by my former lecturer of geospatial engineering units, Nashon Adero. Now as a young mining engineer working with Vastu Co. Ltd in Kenya in the area of blasting and logistics, I have been baptised into the first-hand experience of how COVID-19 has shaken the operations of mining companies.
The effect of COVID-19 on Kenya’s extractive sector was felt immediately. In my line of work, we rely mostly on imported spare parts for the drill rigs and import Ammonium Nitrate and detonators in bulk for our sites. The lockdowns affected production in countries of origin. Back home, the effect weighed heavily on us late in May, when our stocks ran out with prices quadrupling in some cases and no hope of restocking within the country. Without these key materials, added to the curfew limitations imposed by the Government, this meant working remotely. For drilling and blasting, physical presence on site is mandatory for project success. With movement out of Nairobi restricted, I had to work on sites within Nairobi, which meant working two to three times a month. Productivity as previously known took a sharp downward trend, as only site preparations including drilling would be carried out, awaiting material manufacture and shipment.
As work gathered pace again in August, it was a learning point on the limits to which we could be stretched and stressed out under mounting pressure to recover production targets. Many sites were ready for blasting, which meant being in two or more towns within a span of one week. As this took place, the IBD Series was posting weekly doses of enlightening practical applications of mathematical modelling to simulating COVID-19 scenarios and hosting monthly international virtual youth mentorship forums. Torn between busy work schedules and the compelling desire to benefit from the IBD Series, I had to upgrade my time management skills substantially. It was gratifying to note that the IBD Series and Talanta TV talks were also enlightening youth on the skills they need to stay ahead of the curve post COVID-19 and how the post-COVID job market would turn out to be. I encourage all students and young professionals to subscribe to such enlightening series to be truly competitive global citizens.
The pandemic has ushered in a new normal. What the employer is looking for now is productivity as opposed to the previous requirements to report to the traditional four-walled office every day. The new normal for my mining engineering duties is to visit the site directly, do the job to the best quality and then submit reports. Online meetings bridge the gaps. We now only report to the office when absolutely necessary, which comes with gains in resource and logistical efficiency.
Every cloud has a silver lining. The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity for all employed graduates to pursue diverse interests that better their skill sets. This includes, but is not limited to, free online courses and the IBD youth forums. Other opportunities are in developing ideas that can turn into thriving business. I have witnessed a mining engineer perfect his love for programming and automate previously manually operated machinery on site, eventually starting up his own firm. I have also perfected my love for crocheting, which has created a repeat customer base, a welcome embroidery of opportunities making for me good business (check my Instagram handle: @anne_ciku).
Opportunities are endless. As youth, however, we must not be carried away by the returns from our side hustles and end up neglecting our productivity at the regular workplace. The workplace offers job security in times of tides such as has been the case with COVID-19. Better still, our employment offers us the prime opportunity during our prime time for professional development, preparing us to be competent practitioners, managers, and top candidates for capacity building and scholarships. Even as I keep practising as a mining engineer, I keep my options for advancing my knowledge in the extractive sector open. We might just meet up on the advanced side of mining scholarship which, as the IBD Series has put it before, has been leveraged by digitalisation within the mainstream of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0).
Anne Gichuhi graduated with BSc in Mining and Mineral Processing Engineering (MMPE) from Taita Taveta University and is now a practising mining engineer. She has been an active participant in IBD youth mentorship fora.
This is the product of more than a decade of dedicated experience in research, skills development, training, and mentorship. Through mentorship and career development fora, IBD empowers youth with the knowledge, international exposure, and digital fluency they need to be emancipated global citizens with borderless influence for sustainable development.