Building the next generation through skills development
By Tommy Strydom
Acting CEO of Inyatsi Construction
A massive skills shortage in Southern African countries lies at the heart of the challenge facing the construction industry in the region. While infrastructure projects are offering the industry numerous growth opportunities, the shortage of construction skills can have a negative impact on the industry as well as economic growth.
The construction industry in Southern Africa is facing major problems of skills shortages in the future. Most skilled workers are older and will retire in the next few years, while younger workers lack the necessary skills to step into their shoes. We need to inspire young people to improve their skills in the construction industry because it is one of the main drivers of economic growth.
Millennials want to work with new technology, especially those coming from more affluent communities, which is why they are not choosing construction as a career. However, we find that young people from less affluent communities are more positive about joining the construction industry.
Therefore we have to do two things to start solving the shortage skills in the industry: we have to start using new technology and we have to change the way we educate and train people to work in the construction industry.
The existing education system is out-dated and we need a new system to fast-track people who want to work in certain industries, with the emphasis on formal as well as informal training. Our school system is aimed at punishing those who make mistakes and work together, instead of rewarding them. When these people enter the working world, they are unable to work together and are scared of making mistakes, but you learn from making mistakes.
We need to change our education system and training to suit the abilities of learners. If someone is going to work in a position where he does not need to be a good reader, he should have the opportunity to be trained, instead of being ignored for not having skills he does not need.
Using technology will save the construction industry money and draw more young people. Construction companies must embrace technology and use young people to show older employees how technology can make their work more cost effective and efficient.
It’s been estimated that Africa needs infrastructure spend of at least $94 billion, but we do not have the skills to use this opportunity to create jobs. We need to upskill the whole of Africa so that we can use this money to build the required infrastructure.
The money is there, we just need the skills. The people of Africa have the best entrepreneurial spirit and if we develop this it will benefit the whole continent. However, this brings us back to the old education system that is the stumbling block. We can only upskill people with the right education system, which must include more practical education for industries such as construction.
However, technical and practical skills are not the only skills we need to upskill the people of Africa. We must work in the full spectrum of the Fourth Revolution across all industries and teach people to not only do their specific jobs, but also additional skills such as working with people and managing finances. As Africans we have the passion and the discipline to make it work, but this passion and discipline must be channelled in the right direction.
It is therefore extremely important to invest in your people and build a culture of caring in the company. That is what we have done at Inyatsi and I believe that is why we are successful. Proper succession planning goes hand in hand with this.
We promote people from inside the company through mentoring, courses and help from senior management and it is amazing how they step up to the plate. They train up other staff to take their places and are eager to announce they are ready for promotion.
We also go to universities to identify bright students and encourage them with bursaries to join us. We then give them the opportunity to join us as interns and work in various sections to see what they really want to do. We also found some young entrepreneurs in Swaziland who give career counselling at rural schools and these children are finding out about careers in the construction industry for the first time.
We also find that our involvement in communities helps us to identify the right people to recruit.
As companies working in the construction industry, we have to identify, analyse, initiate, administer and monitor skills levels and development to ensure employees meet the requirements of the vision, mission and objectives of the company. It is our duty to make certain skill sets more desirable to young people.
I believe it is time for young people in Africa to start believing they can be as good if not better than their peers from other continents and step up to face the challenges in the construction industry with us.
Caption: Tommy Strydom, acting CEO of Inyatsi Construction, explains how skills development can build a next generation that will be able to address social problems such as unemployment and poverty.