The South African construction industry needs to implement consolidated, industrywide training programmes across all skills levels to ensure a stronger resource core and less reliance on other country nationals (OCNs).
Engineering, procurement, construction, maintenance and project management company Fluor says that a consolidated and focused approach is the answer to successfully mitigating the many skills- related challenges faced by the country’s construction industry, while simultane- ously contributing to the successful execution of future projects across the various industries.
However, Fluor regional director for sub-Saharan Africa construction operations Clive Garner says, in the short to medium term, using OCNs will continue to form an integral part of the industry’s execution model.
“We do foresee an increased effort in the training and skills of our local artisans and other supporting-skills bases. Discussions within the industry have reached an advanced level in terms of establishing training trusts to support future workloads, increase local content and rely on fewer OCNs,” he states.
Garner says the shortage of experienced people is the result of many skilled individuals reaching retirement age and the industry not having a sufficient supply of skilled people to replace them. This, he says, is because there is limited industry training to facilitate the achievement of the required qualifications and competence in the potential labour pool.
“There is also a shortage of long-term sustainable work to ensure relevant con- tinued hands-on experience for personnel, which could be a result of the lack of coor- dination across the industry in terms of planned future capital expenditure,” says Garner.
Sufficient investment in construction projects by both the private and public sectors will provide a sustainable project pipeline that could allow better planning in terms of available resources and the execution of projects, he points out.
Garner explains that a sustainable base- load of work will assist the industry in contributing positively to job creation and ongoing training in South Africa.
“Improved synergy among all market segments, such as power, petrochemicals, infrastructure and mining, is also impor- tant.
“The creation of a central database that houses the relevant competences of all construction personnel, and more trans- parency among role-players in terms of planned projects, expansions and upgrades will also benefit the industry” he says
A concerted effort from businesses, government and the labour sector to work together to build a strong skills pool in South Africa is undeniably important for the construction industry, Garner adds, noting that various companies have taken the initiative to train personnel for projects. But, he says, this effort has proved to be deficient in providing the required critical mass of artisans and construction personnel in all the relevant categories.
“The gap between the skills we have and the skills required to support the industry is widening, which is why a joint and focused approach is important.”
Although grants from the Construction Education and Training Authority are available to fund training, Garner high- lights that in-field experience cycles for learners are limited, owing to industry volatility, which results in inconsistent volumes of sustainable work.
“The attraction and retention of personnel are further challenges, as people are looking for secure job opportunities. Further, the emergence of contractors in an already saturated market, in terms of service providers, is resulting in current resources being recycled rather than new skilled personnel being introduced,” he explains.
Garner says businesses, including plant owners, private businesses, parastatal organisations and service providers, need to work with government through sector education and training authorities, as well as further education and training institutions, to rebuild a competent skills pool.
“As an industry, we need to create a pipeline of sustainable long-term work to ensure relevant talent is retained. There also needs to be a countrywide campaign to promote artisanship as a viable career option and make it attractive to the youth.
“Entry levels for artisan candidates need to be re-evaluated to allow individuals who do not meet the current entry-level requirements to pursue a career as an artisan in construction should they meet pared-down but sufficient entrance criteria,” he says.
Garner suggests that a realistic and con- solidated project forecast needs to be established by various industry bodies and developed to provide a more complete picture of the available workforce and the future requirements of the industry.
In light of the various projects high- lighted or earmarked for South Africa, including infrastructure upgrades and new power-generation capacity, he is optimistic that construction has a strong outlook and will continue to form the backbone of economic growth in South Africa.
However, Garner notes that, as long as the skills base remains limited, projects will continue to be delayed and concerns about safety, quality, schedule and exceeding budgets will prevail.