In the pursuit of economic prosperity, Botswana stands as a shining example for South Africa for its efforts to harness its abundant mineral resources to drive remarkable growth. Yet, achieving broad-based, future-proof economic growth in the country calls for professional engineering expertise and investment to enhance the sector’s development and workforce skills. The mining and quarrying industry emerged once again as the major contributor to Botswana’s economy in 2022, accounting for 24.6% of its gross domestic product, as per Statistics Botswana’s Gross Domestic Product Fourth Quarter of 2022 report. Notably, the real value added by the coal, soda ash and diamond industries grew by 21.8%, 8.9% and 7% respectively, underlining the sector’s dynamic diversity and growth potential. James Othapile, managing director of Erudite Botswana, notes that the key in meeting this potential and ensuring the country’s long-term mining growth lies in optimising the country’s operations. This is where engineering, procurement and construction management (EPCM) firms like Erudite can play an invaluable role, assisting in transforming Botswana’s mining sector and economy, and positioning itself as partner in the nation’s socio-economic development. “Multinational EPCMs have primarily been serving the local mining industry, with a modus operandi of setting up remote offices with minimal staff within the country’s borders and delegating tasks to their internationally based head offices. While this may seem efficient, this approach has brought little to no substantial local empowerment to the local engineering sector in which they operate,” he says. A significant advantage of partnering with more localised, African-based EPCMs is their commitment to local ownership and skills development. Rather than relying primarily on international expertise, these firms invest in developing the skills of local engineering and project management professionals. The goal is to build teams that can ultimately manage local projects independently from their parents and contribute to the nation’s skills development in a sustainable manner. Othapile points out that operational methods generally employed by large multinational EPCMs are ill-suited to assisting Botswana and other developing nations to build locally driven, knowledge-based economies. By contrast, Erudite believes in fostering local ownership, developing local teams, and collaborating with existing local engineering firms. This approach ensures the transfer and development of valuable skills and expertise within local businesses. It further results in the retention of funds within the borders rather than exporting funds to international destinations. “The value that Erudite brings to local clients, which include mine owners and governments, extends beyond our capacity to design and build infrastructure or processing plants. With a greenfield project, for example, you start with a barren stretch of land that must be cleared and developed, introducing road, water reticulation and power infrastructure, and the necessary mining and beneficiation plant facilities. This responsibility generally falls to appropriate EPCMs, which in turn appoint subcontractors. But it’s how the EPCM engages with those contractors that matters,” says Othapile. He adds that success is not simply measured by meeting immediate project execution goals, but also through creating value for local communities and the wider Botswana economy. This is achieved in two basic ways. Firstly, by subcontracting local companies, EPCM firms directly facilitate the growth of the local economy, creating jobs and driving income growth. This approach goes a long way in supporting the growth of local enterprises, offering them lucrative opportunities to participate in significant projects and gain exposure to the industry. Secondly, these firms deploy comprehensive training programmes designed to enhance the professional capabilities of local workforces. This helps raise the skill levels within their immediate teams and contributes to a broader ecosystem of well-trained professionals. The long-term impact of such initiatives is substantial, equipping workforces in countries such as Botswana with the expertise needed to lead future projects and drive innovation in the sector. “Sustained investment in local subcontracting and training forms an integral part of EPCMs’ strategies. By committing to these initiatives, they can nurture an ecosystem of skilled professionals and robust enterprises. As we’ve seen in Botswana, the ripple effects of such an ecosystem are substantial, with potential to contribute significantly to economic growth well beyond the completion of initial projects,” concludes Othapile.

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