Thursday 6 May 2021
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Almod shining bright through skills transfer

Government’s decision to create avenues which enables disadvantaged Namibians to be part of the beneficiation process is starting to show results. There are young Namibians who are today doing the cutting and polishing of diamonds, with many able to do the diamond processing planning, which requires high-level skills and generates more value. With Namibia ranked as the 4th largest diamond producer in Africa, a significant number of diamonds sold on the international markets can be traced back to Namibia. Cutting and polishing companies operating in Namibia have over the years met government halfway as far as empowering locals and transferring of skills is concerned. One such a company is Almod Diamonds Namibia, which has been part of the Namibian diamond industry for over a decade now. Diamond mogul and General Director of Almod Namibia Reuven Paikin says the company was able to exist for so long because of the business climate in the country as well as the company’s ongoing efforts to train Namibians. “We have brought in many experts from other countries, not only to ensure that we produce quality diamonds, but also to ensure that Namibians gain polishing and cutting skills while working with these expats,” he said. Paikin lauded government institutions in the country, saying “they have created a comfortable environment which has allowed the diamond industry to thrive without fear of being closed down.” Paikin said this during The Patriot visit to the production site of the company in the Prosperita Industrial area.  Paikin, who previously worked in diamond industries in West and Central Africa, attributed to a large degree the success of his company to political stability and comfortable government operating systems. He said: “Government systems in Namibia are working very well particularly the Ministry of Mines and Customs who are in direct contact with us. They don’t put you in tension where you feel that someone is trying to kill your business. You don’t feel offended and the environment is comfortable.”
He further highlighted that: “You (Namibia) are on a very good level (in diamond operations) and we have never found anything that is negative.”  Having started off in 2007 with a staff compliment of just over 10 polishers, Almod Namibia currently employs about 150 people-both locals and foreigners.   More so, in an industry that is faced with an array of challenges ranging from stiff competition to the rapid emergence of synthetic diamonds, Paikin said the ability to produce quality gems is key in the diamond industry. “The market has changed, you have a lot of traditional players in the market which makes it very difficult. The competition is very tough, if you want to survive you need to come up with unique products. “There are synthetic diamonds that gives a knock to the growth of natural diamonds, hence things are different in the modern day. For example, luxury today can be seen as having an i-Phone 7 and not a diamond ring. So marketing (of diamonds) aggressively and promotion campaign needs to be more rigorous to convince potential buyers that diamonds are natural and they are forever,” he further explained. Almod mainly supplies its polished diamonds to its parent company-Almod Diamonds-that was founded some three decades ago. The parent company, says Paikin, has over 130 retail venues throughout the Caribbean, Mexico and Alaskan ports-of-call. Another key element to the survival of Almod Namibia in an industry that keeps on downsizing is the fact that the company sells all its diamonds beyond the shores of Namibia. “We have over 130 shops abroad, so we are not looking for diamonds to sell locally because we supply directly to our shops. I think this is one of the reasons why we hardly felt the challenges in the diamond industry during the past years,” he noted. The transfer of skills from expatriates to locals is among the key forces driving the diamond industry in Namibia in a bid to avoid continued dependence on foreign experts.  When asked whether the transfer of skills from expatriates to local Namibian was taking place at the company, Paikin said: “We have a guy (Namibian) that has been in the industry for over 10 years now and even De Beers wanted to take him away from us (Almod Namibia). That shows you that we are imparting skills into our employees. But skills transfer takes time, it is not a once-off thing. From our experience, it took India that has over 1 million polishers around 30 years to transfer skills and build the robust industry they have today.”
Paikin said the company has roped in gemologists and other diamond experts to beef up the operations. The cutting and polishing firm has a training facility on site where 18 trainees are currently being trained. Paikin takes pride in the fact that the four instructors at the training centre are Namibian nationals. “We have taken a deliberate step to train our people, this also helps to ensure that the next generation of cutters and polishers are well prepared. The instructors at the training centre are all Namibians, which shows that skills transfer is good for empowerment,” he said. Aveline Thomas, who has been with the company since it opened its doors in 2007, described her decade-long stay as “nice”, adding that the working environment has improved tremendously over the years.  Almod Diamonds, is one of the few, if not the only one, that provides its employees with benefits such as medical aid and pension. “I started off as a polisher but today I am a Stock Supervisor, when I look back and it feels so nice to note what I have achieved.  When we started, we were just 10 trainees, but today we have over 150 employees and many trainees. We (Almod Namibia) have never retrenched our employees, even when we are facing a crisis, we continue to have trainees in place,” a clearly elated Thomas said.
Additionally Thomas said she makes a “decent income” that enables her to provide for her family and pay tuition fees for her son.
“I make a decent income and I am able to provide for my family and pay for my son’s tuition fees who studies at Unam (University of Namibia),” she further added.

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