A CONSTRUCTION industry survey has highlighted a dire skills shortage in the building and construction sector, casting doubt on South Africa’s ability to harness the necessary skills for its much-vaunted R4-trillion infrastructure programme over the next 15 years.
Master Builders South Africa warned of a “critical” shortage of supervisory skills on building sites and said this threatened safety.
“Expect more building disasters if training is not stepped up,” Master Builders executive director Tumi Dlamini said on Tuesday. The body is a major employer representative in the building and construction industry in South Africa.
“The increasingly regular media reports about such disastrous building collapses merely endorse our members’ apprehension,” she said.
While it was “encouraging” to note that President Jacob Zuma in his recent state of the nation address had pledged to establish 12 new training and vocational education colleges, Master Builders “eagerly awaited” details about these colleges and when they were likely to open, she said.
The survey showed that 41% of the Master Builders respondents regarded the shortage of skilled construction foremen as “most critical” in all worker categories covered. It also showed low support among employers for formal training. Only about 11% of respondents conducted accredited or formal staff training, with close to two-thirds of these opting for in-house courses.
“Based on this alarming feedback, which, in effect, means that many building contractors are undertaking building operations without skilled supervision on site, South Africa should not be surprised if more structures collapse, and more people are killed ,” Ms Dlamini said.
The survey said more training was essential for multiskilled staff such as tilers, glazers, plasterers, plumbers, welders and shop-fitters, who were in short supply.
Survey respondents felt the most important artisan trade was carpentry, followed by bricklaying, painting and decorating, and plumbing and wood joinery.
South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors (Safcec) president Norman Milne said yesterday if the industry could see a “guaranteed” stream of projects, it “would be happy to train”. But the government is far behind in providing the electricity for South Africa’s infrastructure build because of labour problems and technical difficulties at Eskom’s new Medupi and Kusile power stations.
Mr Milne said Safcec was engaging with further education and training colleges as the “people they are turning out are not suitable for industry”. Safcec would begin to offer training for artisans from next year. However, it was not a “glamorous” industry and young people turned elsewhere for work, he said.
Ferdinand Fester, a senior lecturer in the department of construction management and quantity surveying at the University of Johannesburg, said yesterday the onus was on contractors to train staff. Skills Education and Training Authorities (Setas), meant to foster industry-specific skills, only administered the skills levy paid by the industry that was meant for artisan training, he said.
Employers could get back up to 90% of the levies they paid if they got the paperwork right and trained artisans to government requirements. The numbers of young people in training and the quality of training are not seen to match the country’s needs.
Ms Dlamini said most employers surveyed had assessed accredited artisan training as “poor”. More than 80% said they would support the establishment of a “national training register of qualified artisans” for the industry.
The survey said that large numbers of employers involved in formal training did this to boost their broad-based black economic empowerment status, or benefit from tax incentives linked to increased productivity.
Survey respondents gave reasons for not sending staff for accredited training, including complaints that once qualified, they would be “poached” or work elsewhere. Also, that formal training was too expensive, and the environment “too complicated”.
“The results of the survey are alarming, but not surprising. They simply echo the long-standing Master Builders plea for increased and improved training facilities, driven by the government,” Ms Dlamini said.