Building-skills crunch requires professionals to lend a hand

Posted On Monday, 04 April 2005 02:00 Published by eProp Commercial Property News
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One of the biggest problems facing the South African construction industry is a 'massive' shortage of labour skills

Carl GrimOne of the biggest problems facing the South African construction industry is a "massive" shortage of labour skills, says Stuart Chait, CEO of Cape Town-based Property Partners.

Chait charges that the industry, along with associated professionals such as civil engineers, architects and developers, are "doing nothing to ensure that the huge disparity between skilled and unskilled labour is bridged".

If the shortage of skilled labour is not addressed it will result in shoddy development work and an influx of foreign contractors coming into the market to take away work from local contractors, he says.

"We need training academies in the townships that are funded by the industry."

Chait says the construction industry is "flying at the moment" because of the property boom, and developers and professionals such as architects, engineers - both civil and structural - and surveyors are not putting anything back into the industry to skill unskilled labour.

He says the amount of available skilled labour is dwindling fast and something needs to be done urgently if the quality of work SA is accustomed to is to continue.

Chait says South Africans previously lived in an environment where interest-rate hikes were commonplace due to the unstable political and economic environment, which "stopped the property industry in its tracks".

Skilled professionals such as civil, structural, electrical and mechanical engineers, as well as architects and surveyors, struggled to find consistent work and many left the country.

Now the environment has changed, says Chait, and the country is enjoying strong economic growth and low inflation and interest rates.

Furthermore, the construction industry is set to benefit because government has put in place a five-year commitment to spend R195bn on infrastructure, including bridges and roads.

Chait says industry players who are involved in training and give their time and money to assist government in training unskilled labour should benefit by being favoured on government construction and land tenders.

There is also a need for black ownership, not just empowerment, in the construction industry, he says.

Pierre Fourie, CEO of Master Builders SA, says the association is concerned that there is insufficient training in designated skills such as bricklaying, plumbing, plastering and carpentry.

"Training in those skills is limited," says Fourie.

However, he says, the Construction Education and Training Authority (Ceta) is "proposing certain initiatives to step up training in skills".

The Ceta was not available for comment.

Carl Grim, CEO of listed company Aveng, which owns construction company Grinaker LTA, says the skills problem is "real". The more sophisticated the required skills are, the "greater the problem", he says.

Grim says skills in real demand are those that require major training such as civil, mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as project management.

"At the lower levels of skills, like bricklaying, we are training people all the time on our various construction sites. That is not the problem. The real problem is getting qualified and experienced technicians and engineers."

Grim says Grinaker LTA has a "very substantial" bursary programme in place this year to try to address the problem. The company is offering 160 bursaries.

He says government?s infrastructure plans require sophisticated technical skills. "The only way we are going to get them in the short term is to import them from outside the country."

The cyclical nature of the construction industry has been a "major cause of ills. The industry has been through a tough time and skills have either left the country or migrated into other industries," says Grim.

e

Last modified on Saturday, 19 October 2013 12:45

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