JIS News

The approximately US$1.2 billion Jamalco expansion programme, which kicked off in May and which will last for 30 months, doubling production capacity, is a testimony to the calibre of the alumina company’s management and workers.The reason Alcoa, Jamalco’s US-based parent company, decided to make the most substantial single foreign investment ever made in Jamaica is due to the achievements which the Clarendon company has chalked up. “Jamalco is now in the first quintile of companies in the Alcoa global system,” explains an obviously delighted Managing Director, Jerome Maxwell, who himself received a major promotion within the Alcoa group earlier this year when he assumed the position of Vice President in charge of Advance Planning and Infrastructure for Africa and the Caribbean.
“Five years ago we were in the fifth quintile in terms of being a high-cost producer, but all that has changed. We are now a world-class facility with world-class support services and this is why Alcoa has made such a tangible and substantial investment in Jamaica. It is a significant expression of confidence in our workers,” Mr. Maxwell tells JIS News in an interview.
The Jamalco expansion is projected to result in an additional $150 million in local wages with an increase in personal income tax revenues of $40 million and company taxes of $32 million per annum, after completion.
Jamalco has been recording some noteworthy milestones and is now one of Alcoa’s finest facilities globally in terms of productivity, low-cost production, health and safety and environmental management.
Not only has Jamalco recorded no loss of workdays due to safety problems, but the company has recorded not one injury for the year – the only facility in the Alcoa group to have achieved this feat. “In a business like ours, this is a significant achievement,” the Managing Director notes. “Jamalco is coming from having a number of injuries every year to no injury at all,” he informs.
Mr. Maxwell also reveals that when Alcoa’s Chairman mentioned at the beginning of the year that the worldwide group should strive for zero injuries, some wondered aloud whether that was not just an idealistic goal. “But we in Jamaica have achieved it,” he is quick to add.
The Managing Director says that Jamalco adopts what is called “behaviour-based safety principles”, because they had observed that most injuries stemmed from behavioural problems. The company has now put in place a system where every worker is encouraged to be his brother’s keeper. Workers are admonished to observe one another’s habits and practices on the job to see that they conform to the promotion of safety. The Jamalco way is one which stresses consultation, co-operation, camaraderie and caring.
And there’s another C word: Community. This one is particularly big in Jamalco’s vocabulary, and nothing graphically illustrates this more than its Breadnut Valley Training Centre initiative. Here’s the story: When Jamalco launched its previous expansion programme in 2003, there was the need for 700 workers. But 300 workers had to be imported from other Caribbean countries, for the skills were not available in Jamaica, and certainly not in the surrounding communities.
This case illustrates the fact that it is not the provision of jobs in themselves, which is the biggest issue in stemming Jamaica’s unemployment, but the ability of workers to take up skilled jobs. So training becomes critical as the country could have the case of many jobs being available but too many unskilled people to take them up. Jamalco, rather than waiting on the state to provide the training, decided to take the “bull by the horns”, as it were, and to initiate a training programme in association with the state’s training agency, HEART/NTAJamalco converted a mining facility it formerly used in Breadnut Valley into a training centre where training is being provided for people in the surrounding communities, so that they can directly benefit from the investments taking place at the plant.
The present expansion programme, set to be completed in 2007, will involve the employment of 3,500 persons at the peak of construction as well as result in 100 permanent jobs and over 150 contractor jobs. Jamalco’s goal is to be able to source all of these skills locally, and to drive the training work to develop those skills where they do not already exist.
The excitement is etched on Mr. Maxwell’s face as he tells JIS News about the project. “We believe passionately that the people of Clarendon must benefit from the investments which are being ploughed into Jamalco. The communities must reap the fruits, not just the country, in terms of increased foreign exchange earnings, tax revenue etcetera. The communities here must benefit directly and substantially,” he stresses.
What is particularly gratifying about the programme is that it reaches out to those at the lowest rung of the training pole. Not only are skilled trades people being given further training to bring them up to speed and to equip them for work during the expansion, but those who cannot read or write are being given literacy skills so that they can start the skills training. Dubbed the Documentation Programme, this initiative now has 400 persons enrolled.
Some of these persons who do not currently have literacy skills may be good trades people, and Jamalco feels strongly that they should not be deprived of working in the expansion programme because of their literacy challenge.
The trainers incorporate the day-to-day work of these persons in their literacy training. So, for example, trainees learn how to read drawings, how to take proper measurements and other things. This then makes the learning experience more engaging and relevant.Then there are those who have the skills but need upgrading. This is also provided at Breadnut Valley.
In addition, there are persons who are quite literate and mentally capable but who may not have any particular skill and the programme is also geared at imparting skills to these persons. “So we are not leaving out anybody,” Mr. Maxwell emphasizes.In addition to weekday sessions, the training sessions are also held on weekends and evenings to facilitate those persons who have to work.
Mr. Maxwell says Jamalco’s vision is not limited to training for Jamalco’s own expansion. “We have a commitment to the people in our surrounding communities. We want to see people employable generally, so we don’t mind equipping them for other companies and for the country as a whole. Once they have the training, they have it for life,” he notes.
Persons apply to be enrolled in the programme through HEART, which does the assessment to determine the type of training needed. Jamalco also works closely with community councils set up to ensure good bauxite-community relations. Through these councils, the people are fully informed about the training programmes available.
Indeed, Jamalco regularly holds meetings with the community councils and tell the people about Jamalco’s plans. “We don’t wait for people to hear on the news what Jamalco will be doing and what expansion plans we are undertaking. We tell the people first,” Mr. Maxwell emphasises. “Alcoa’s philosophy is that if you are going to be the best company in the world, you have to be the best company in your community,” Mr. Maxwell adds.
This is why the Alcoa subsidiary here contributes so heavily to community development through financing of a vast number of projects. Not only does the company make significant financial investments in the community, but its workers volunteer their service to community projects. Alcoa has a ‘Week of Service’, in which over 150 Jamaicans have been involved.
No issue has been more controversial in the Jamaican bauxite industry than the matter of the environment. And in this vexed area, Jamalco has been outstanding.
The company has won the Jamaica Bauxite Institute Environmental Management Award for 2004, its third award in four years of the competition. It has also won the NT Chaplin Trophy for the Best Housekeeping Performance among alumina processing plants, as well as the Frazier Perry Trophy for the best Housekeeping Performance in Mining Operations.
Between 2003 and 2004 there has been a remarkable 90 per cent reduction of spills in terms of value and 50 per cent in terms of the number of spills. Since the beginning of this year the reduction in both value and volume of spills has been even more impressive.
The bauxite/alumina industry is very critical to the Jamaican economy, grossing approximately US$900 million in the last fiscal year, US$370.5 million of which was retained in the country as net earnings. This represents an increase of 11 per cent, despite the effects of Hurricane Ivan last year September. This year the industry is projected to earn $1.016 billion.
Jamalco is set to play a major role in the development of the bauxite/alumina industry over the next few years. Its corporate philosophy is based on the view that it is important not only to make profit, but to be a good corporate citizen, a model of environmental management and a pillar of community development.