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Claire McMaster: Passionate about Human Capital Development in the Mining Industry

At the helm of Fraser Alexander’s human capital pillar, is Claire McMaster. Fraser Alexander is the world’s largest outsourced tailings management contractor and a global leader in hydro re-mining. With its headquarters in South Africa, it is a 100% South African black- and majority women-owned company in the Mining, Oil, and Gas Services (MOGS) Group.

The organisation was originally established in 1912 as a tailings deposition service on the Witwatersrand goldfields. Claire McMaster brings 25 years of mining industry experience to her critical role in transforming the way in which the company supports its people and drives a strong performance development culture.

Since joining Fraser Alexander in 2018, Claire has been instrumental in creating a work environment that blends social initiatives with technical and commercial achievements.

The majority of people want to work in organisations that are ethical, champion high performance and create opportunities for their employees to have a meaningful impact. Giving meaning to one’s work often results in a heightened sense of job satisfaction and improved levels of employee engagement.

“By ensuring that our socio-economic, enterprise and supplier development projects support the local communities in which many of our staff reside, we can give back in a meaningful way and tangibly connect our teams to the organisation’s purpose – to transform mine waste into societal, environmental, and economic value,” she says.

The company was recently awarded a B-BBEE Level 1 certificate — a tremendous accolade that represents years of social and employee development programmes that are now entrenched in the business.

Fraser Alexander’s aim of creating value for others resonates deeply with their employees, and particularly when they are holistically well. The company’s value of care steers decision-making, and employee wellness is a top concern. It is supported by their BioPsychoSocial model that identifies areas in which the company can improve and develop its wellness offering. As a result, several initiatives are in place and these include the provision of access to private healthcare for employees, and psychological, financial and legal support or guidance.

Transparency is another critical factor that Claire believes is important for empowering dynamic and productive work environments. Goals and responsibilities need to be clearly defined to foster a strong performance development culture. And these are supported by competency growth and talent management – necessary for the long-term sustainability of a company, she emphasises.

The organisation is focused on attracting and retaining talent. “Our extensive range of flexible contracts allows us to access mature employees who contribute richly to the business but work on limited hours, and at the same time, we also employ young graduates, learners, artisans and interns. As a result, we enter into a wide variety of contracts with employees, including permanent employment, and where the circumstances allow, home could be Cape Town or Columbia,” she adds.

A flexible, where role-suitable, work policy is also an aspect that Claire confirms contributes to attracting and retaining the right talent for a business. And this work-from-home policy which was implemented before Covid-19, certainly came to fruition during the pandemic as the organisation was able to continue with business as usual and nimbly adapt during the mandatory lockdown periods.

“When we updated our hybrid office model post-pandemic, we didn’t make rules around face or office time. Rather, we encouraged employees to determine when they should be in the office, and for the most part, this has worked well.

Employees move between our offices both globally and in South Africa, and come to the head office for specific engagement opportunities. No one has an individual office in the building, and all employees share open-plan spaces, which has promoted a culture of engagement across disciplines, fostering informed and quick decision-making and increased innovation,” notes Claire.

One of the most significant changes in the human capital space that Claire anticipates, is the renewed global interest in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) that will birth meaningful change in an organisation’s approach to diversity management. And, although DEI is not new to South Africa, it is an important environmental, social and governance (ESG) theme which is a core focus for many mining companies.

Fraser Alexander has a very active Diversity and Inclusion Committee that is supported by various subcommittees that cover gender diversity, differently-abled and LGBTQIA+.

DEI is driven from an executive level and diversity is also encouraged among its labour partner representation. More than 60% of the company’s interns and graduates are female and it measures its gender income differential monthly.

A number of initiatives are in place to support gender diversity such as the provision of gender-appropriate PPE; unconscious bias and diversity training; and ensuring that all social initiatives provide support to women. Twenty-five percent of South African procurement opportunities have been awarded to Black women-owned businesses. In addition, through the deployment of certain technologies such as our remotely operated mining units, the company is also able to better support the achievement of its diversity targets.

The company’s female ownership, board representation, leadership, and middle management statistics are also impressive, and the goal is to have 20% female representation throughout, by 2025. “I continue to champion diversity and inclusion within the company and bring my experience and learnings as a past chair of Women in Mining South Africa (WiMSA), to the table. Women in Mining Fraser Alexander (WiMFA) is a spin-off of this and is helping us meet our gender targets through focused support and development of women in the organisation,” comments Claire.

She goes on to say that barriers to entry for women are often societal and to that end, she and her team at Fraser Alexander have played an instrumental role in driving a gender-based violence prevention project with representatives from Anglo American, Sedibelo Resources, and other Minerals Council members.

At the end of 2022, a number of partners pledged the necessary funds to set up at least five Thuthuzela Care Centres to assist victims of gender-based violence in the communities in which they operate.

The assimilation of artificial intelligence (AI) into organisations, and the management of these dynamics, is a further theme that Claire remarks is going to impact the human resources industry, and will involve continual upskilling and the exploration and adoption of technology.

Technology has changed our lives and she explains that while it has the power to automate repetitive tasks and give organisations quick access to reliable data on which to base informed decisions, it also provides human resource personnel with the time, potential and opportunity to focus on the more meaningful aspects of the job, and apply strategic and creative skills to add value to developing human capital.

“The future of work must remain a critical agenda item in our discussions with our social partners. As technology creates efficiencies, it becomes more important for staff to reskill and upskill to be able to take on the many roles that will be on offer in the future. Such roles will provide improved quality of work but will demand increased skills and education. At Fraser Alexander, we have agreed on targets that balance the recruitment and development of talent, both within, and outside, of the company. Capacity building for our Nxt Generation Solutions offering is a priority,” she comments.

Mining is a dynamic and constantly evolving industry which Claire says has provided her with a hugely challenging and rewarding career to date. Her role in wellness, ESG impacts, culture change, an unparalleled employee value proposition, promotion of the digital journey and future skills, and embracing many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, is formidable in the company’s intent to fulfil its purpose.

Looking forward, Claire says she would like to see mining houses recognise service providers that have a strong ESG offering and form partnerships with them to drive their purpose and give back to society for the long-term benefit of all.

Claire advises the next generation of aspiring business leaders, to be open to all opportunities, to communicate well, to plan and be responsive, to be curious, to read extensively, to gain depth and breadth of experience, to listen and above all, to always make the ethical call.

“Don’t be scared to fail; be human and yourself in all interactions; be open to advice and guidance; develop your network; ensure you have strong mentors, coaches, and sponsors; join professional organisations; and focus on continuous learning,” she challenges.