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Skills development in construction

Following on from the implementation of the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) process in Gauteng1 was the implementation of an integrated, streamlined and equitable system for the development of a roster for Professional Service Providers, which was adopted for implementation in the 2006/07 financial year.

The intention was to structure and implement a new roster that was for the entire Gauteng Department of Transport and Public Works, and that was based on fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective principles. 

Further, capacitation and training were key components and featured high on the proposed Public Works Charter’s list of priority interventions. In this context, the first point of call was the Construction Education Training Authority (CETA).

It was recognised that in order to achieve a commercially-driven financial sector supply of finance to SMMEs, three main things were required:

  • The role of government needed to be clearly defined and its programmes had to be structured so that they promoted the desired goal and did not introduce market distortions
  • There had to be a conducive regulatory and legal framework with a specified focus on stimulating the development of financial services to the SMMEs, while still maintaining a sound financial sector overall
  • The financial institutions had to have the capacity and desire to lend to this sector, which would enable them to develop the appropriate products and systems to serve the market

Skills in the industries constituting public works (including professional services, inspections, trades and artisanry, material supply and contracting) were being developed through the dedicated resources and mechanisms established by the National Department of Labour for training, and through learnerships and internships.

There has been a decline of skills and capacity within the industry, including the professions. The industry is failing to attract the cream of school leavers and at all skill levels is failing to create a viable, sustainable career prospect. Employment conditions in the industry are probably less optimal than in many others. These realities and the consequences of delivery and quality underpin the industry’s poor image.

Current industry capacity is inadequate to meet projected growth in the volume of construction, both in the public and private sectors. There is an urgent need to unlock sustainable skills formation and development of the professions.  This would be supported by improved academic and research capability.

Central to challenges facing our country is lack of relevant and appropriate skills to enable our people to enter employment. The main aim of the Public Works Strategy Agenda was to find solutions through knowledge partnerships, through structured occupational labour markets, and through internal labour markets.  Various inter-governmental structures exist and must continue to be strengthened and reinforced, notwithstanding that their effectiveness varies. Functional integration needs to be developed, particularly around key programmes and policies.

Labour-intensive construction methods involve the use of an appropriate mix of labour and machines, with a preference for labour where technically and economically feasible, without compromising the quality of the product. International and local experience has shown that, with well-trained supervisory staff and an appropriate employment framework, labour-intensive methods can be used successfully for certain types of infrastructure projects. Labour-intensive infrastructure projects under the EPWP involve:

  • Using labour-intensive construction methods to provide employment opportunities to local unemployed people
  • Providing training or skills development to those locally-employed workers
  • Building cost-effective and quality assets
  • Re-skilling and upgrading of the skills profile of contractors and professional service providers

In order for the labour-intensive infrastructure programmes to be implemented, contractors need to be trained in the use of labour-intensive construction methods.  To this end, the Department of Public Works and CETA had a programme to select 750 emerging contractors countrywide to go onto learnerships, to become qualified to build and maintain these types of infrastructure using labour-intensive construction methods.

The Department of Public Works has put in place guidelines for appropriate designs and tender documentation for labour-intensive infrastructure programmes.  These guidelines give guidance on contract documentation, and design checklist activities suitable for labour-intensive methods. 

Immediate interventions

In order to develop the capacity of the construction industry to manage labour-intensive projects, the additional conditionalities mentioned above will also include an eligibility requirement for the appointment of contractors and consulting engineers, i.e. that their key staff involved in the project must undergo special NQF-accredited training programmes in labour-intensive construction.

The selection criteria for skills development in the construction industry should include the following:

  • A target of at least 85% of the selected learners must be historically disadvantaged individuals
  • A target of at least 50% of the selected learners must be women and/or disabled
  • At least 50% of the learners must be youth (younger than 35 years)
  • The learners must have indicated in writing that they are willing to go onto the learnerships on a full-time basis
  • Applications must be for a contractor and two high-level site supervisors under the contractor, per application
  • Learners applying as a contractor must have provided proof that they have at least 51% ownership of a registered business, and a valid original tax clearance certificate must be supplied with the application forms
  • Learners applying as contractor must have at least Grade 10 (applicants can approach the CETA Regional Manager or Training Provider for recognition of prior learning (RPL) if necessary, and can be eligible if they obtain Grade 10 through RPL before the closing date of the advertisement)
  • Learners applying as higher-level supervisors must have at least Grade 12 (applicants can approach the CETA Regional Manager or Training Provider for RPL, if necessary, and can be eligible if they obtain Grade 12 through RPL before the closing date of the advertisement)
  • Learners applying as a high-level supervisor must be employed by the contracting company for at least the period of the learnership

This learnership programme targeted those people, within the affirmative action framework described above, who would have had the best chances of succeeding as small contractors and construction site supervisors.

The following characteristics of applicants therefore counted in their favour in the selection process:

  • Experience and/or appropriate training in the construction or contracting sector
  • Higher qualifications than the minimum specified
  • Experience in owning, running or managing a business (for contractors)
  • Access or ownership of capital or assets that would be useful for the contracting company (for contractors)
  • Entrepreneurial drive and commitment to the construction environment

General interventions

The main role of the mentor is to support the learner contractor and to impart knowledge that will enable the contractor to compete independently as soon as possible. The mentor will have to provide a wide range of support and advice functions, including but not limited to:

  • Finance and dealing with banks
  • Business management
  • Procurement of materials and other required services
  • Technical and engineering
  • Tendering
  • Construction planning and management
  • Fulfilling of statutory and tax obligations
  • Labour relations and human resource management
  • Advice on other work opportunities
  • Advice on networking opportunities with like-minded individuals within the industry
  • Advice on marketing and business growth processes

A mentor shall advise, coach, counsel, guide, teach, instruct and tutor the learner contracting company, in the execution of his duties associated with a project with particular reference to the three absolutes of project management, namely cost, time and quality, and in respect of the following:

  • Financial and contractual matters
  • The management and the development of a business
  • The procurement of materials and services
  • Tendering for projects
  • Concluding a contract with the public body
  • Construction planning and management
  • Materials management and control
  • Cashflow management
  • The relationship between tender prices, productivity and profit
  • The fulfilling of statutory and tax obligations, with particular reference to labour and health and safety obligations
  • Wages and salaries

A mentor shall advise a learner contracting company as to the nature of the works and the contents of the procurement documents for a project, and provide advice and assistance in methods of costing and tendering, as well as:

  • Visit the site at appropriate intervals during the various stages of construction in order to confirm that the learner contractor company makes satisfactory progress, shows technical competence in the execution of all aspects of the works, and generally fulfils all contractual obligations
  • Facilitate the putting in place and implementation of a systematic quality assurance programme by a learner contracting company on all projects
  • Facilitate the resolution of a learner contracting company’s queries regarding the interpretation of drawings, specifications and contractual matters pertaining to a project
  • Monitor on learners’ progress and ensure that they are continually involved in growth management and that they are exposed to opportunities
  • Compile progress reports on the mentorship process, in terms of successes and failures
  • Develop a framework for mentorship within the construction environment, especially in relation to Gauteng and the associated growth and development issues
  • Creatively guide learners along a path of independence

1This discussion is an extract from the documents titled Gauteng Infrastructure Renewal and Investment Plan (GIRIP) that was still at “work in progress” stage by the time I left the department.

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