Firm takes action to redress skills shortage

4th August 2006 By: Bert Swart

Although the skills shortage is a reality in engineering, con- struction craft and supervision, this is not unique to South Africa, and is a worldwide problem, according to Fluor SA MD Peter Watts.

However, in light of this shortage, Fluor South Africa is committed to developing skills and adding sustainability to its investment in the country, he says.

“To be sustainable in its pro- jects, the company needs a labour force that has the capability to deliver.

“It was with this in mind that we have invested, since the early 1980s, in training craft labour for the market to execute projects,” says Watts.

The company recognises that skilled workers are hard to come by, and it is difficult for companies to find skilled and semiskilled construction labour.

However, the company can draw on most of the engineering skills it needs from its various overseas offices, he adds.

Since 1978, almost 25 000 semi-skilled craft resources have been trained by Fluor SA.

The first black welders were trained for the Sasol II project at Secunda.

Training has also taken place at the other training centre in Durban South.

Both these training centres played a major role in ensuring a steady flow of craft labour getting the opportunity to practise and improve their skills.

The company sees the development of skills in the same category as its broad-based black-economic empowerment initiative, and it also spends significant time and money in developing its 700-plus local staff.

“This was a key element of the 2006 clean-fuels programme.

“While a major part of the company’s scope was executed using South African resources, the major- ity of the other contractors who participated in the programme had to rely on their overseas offices to perform engineering and design scopes,” says Watts.

He says that the company’s clients can also play a major role by ensuring a steady flow of work, to give artisans the opportunity of practising and improving their skills on a continuous basis.

On a smaller scale, the company is supporting an engineering design centre at Jeppe Boys High School to encourage youngsters to move into the engineering and design field.

He says that, since October 2002, the company has been in a joint venture with Igoda, and Fluor Igoda, its black economic-empowerment subsidiary company, in various projects focused on the oil refining business.

Fluor has also worked with clients in mining and power generation, as well as chemicals projects. Watts says that South Africa’s cleanfuels campaign is lagging behind those in the US and Europe, and so the company’s seeks to make a contribution not only in skills, but also in technology. Limitations on vendor capacity globally and construction super- vision and craft skills form a critical part of the input in planning and executing clean-fuels projects.

The company has been fortunate to be able to play a key role at Sapref, Natref and Engen, as well as having had several contractual roles on Sasol’s Project Turbo, says Watts.

Work in progress Fluor is currently completing its activities on Sasol’s Project Turbo in completion of the first cleanfuels campaign and the company has been fortunate to be awarded roles on several major projects of regional and national importance, Watts informs.

Some of these projects include Petronet’s new pipeline and net-work, Eskom’s RTS Grootvlei pro- ject, Rio Tinto’s Madagascar Ilmenite project and Total’s Indeni Refinery rehabilitation/modernisation project, in Zambia.

The company is in a joint venture with Pangaea and is working with Eskom CED in a joint project team to bring the six units at mothballed power station, Grootvlei, on line.

The growth in power demand has brought pressure to finish on schedule.

The project team is hoping to finish before the original scheduled target dates.

The project execution model takes into account the importance of operating within Eskom’s gov- ernance and incorporating its technical experience, while using the company’s project systems and Pangaea’s contracting experi-ence.

Fluor’s JV company with Eskom, Trans-Africa Projects (TAP), has been involved in projects in Mozam-bique, Nigeria, Namibia and other African states.

TAP has also been involved in global assignments in India, China, Australia, Indonesia and Iraq.

In Mozambique, TAP managed the power-transmission project for Motraco for BHP Billiton’s aluminium smelter in Maputo.

TAP’s main focus now is to sup- port Eskom and the regional authorities in the extension and development of South African electricity transmission networks, Watts concludes.