In Summary

  • Qualified staff need minimal supervision and enable a company to do a good job, and within the stipulated time.
  • If you are a construction company, you will have every day at your gate a long queue of people looking for work. And they will not be skilled. If you have a programme like this on your side, you will have world-class quality training of personnel with certificates, which gives you a long list of qualified artisans to choose from, instead of those waiting at the gate with no skills.
  • So it gives you a pool of people for your site who have more skills and are more qualified, which means you can build better quality buildings in good time and save money.

Ms Lillian Ashioya could not hide her joy when she was presented with a certificate after successfully completing a one-month course in masonry.

“I want to thank everyone who has taken part in my training. You all know how hard it is to get a job nowadays without skills, and this has made many youths suffer. I now have skills,” said Ms Ashioya, addressing fellow graduates and guests at the graduation ceremony held in a tent on the grounds of Garden City shopping mall on the outskirts of Nairobi last Friday (February 24), amid loud cheers from her classmates.

Before the training, Ms Ashioya, who is married with three children, had taken up several menial jobs at construction sites around Ruaraka on the outskirts of Nairobi before landing a cleaning job at Garden City shopping mall.

“I am delighted that I will now be able to not only mop floors of buildings, but also participate in their construction with my newly acquired skills,” said an elated Ms Ashioya, who graduated with a masonry level one qualification.

A total of 130 students from underprivileged backgrounds selected with the help of community-based organisations in the surrounding area graduated during the event, touted as the first ever graduation ceremony to take place in a shopping mall.

The free training was facilitated through a partnership between Actis, the developer behind Nairobi’s landmark shopping complexes Garden City and The Junction, and ArcSkills, an international skills development institution. The programme is in its sixth month and aims to equip about 300 youths with skills in masonry, carpentry formwork, plumbing, tiling, scaffolding and plastering within a year.

While regulatory bodies such as the National Construction Authority have standards to ensure that only qualified and registered professionals such as architects, engineers and contractors take part in construction, little attention is given to middle-level workers and artisans like Ms Ashioya, who constitute the bulk of the workforce in the construction industry.

Indeed, the conventional way of hiring such workers at construction sites around the country is based solely on what impression the foreman has of a person’s capabilities. So what happens is that a group of job-seeking young men and women present themselves at a construction site in the morning, and the foreman decides, usually on the basis of a person’s physical build, who among them will join his or her team for the day.

Ms Shami Nissan. PHOTO | DELFHIN MUGO

Ms Shami Nissan. PHOTO | DELFHIN MUGO

TIME, QUALITY, COST

Ms Shami Nissan, head of responsible investment at Actis, noted that this lack of skills among the lower cadres of workers is to blame for problems dogging the construction industry, such as structurally unsound buildings, which end up collapsing.

“We feel the pinch when that happens,” she said. “We have been investors in real estate for eight years now in Kenya. We would like to improve the quality of workers’ skills, which will translate to quality work in the industry.”

Ms Nissan said that training leads to quality workmanship, which means fewer lives are likely to be lost as a result of buildings collapsing.

“But less extreme than loss of life, due to poor workmanship, developers are rebuilding over and over again as a result of shoddy work. It costs more money to do that,” she added. 

Besides, Ms Nissan believes that there is a strong commercial case that should compel construction companies to consider incorporating an artisans’ training programme, not just as a corporate-social responsibility, but for the benefit of the company as well. as the

“If you are a construction company, you will have every day at your gate a long queue of people looking for work. And they will not be skilled. If you have a programme like this on your side, you will have world-class quality training of personnel with certificates, which gives you a long list of qualified artisans to choose from, instead of those waiting at the gate with no skills. So it gives you a pool of people for your site who have more skills and are more qualified, which means you can build better quality buildings in good time and save money,” Ms Nissan offered. 

Meanwhile, speaking to DN2 after the graduation ceremony, Mr Peter Kimurwa, the chief executive officer of ArcSkills, said the success of a project depends on three things: time, quality and cost.

He went on to explain that, as a developer or a contractor, when you are working with untrained artisans, you have very little control of these three critical elements.

He added that that that is why training is important because it imparts skills and positive behaviour. For instance, when artisans are conversant with their roles on the construction site, they need minimal supervision but will do a substantial amount of work.

Trainees during their graduation ceremony. PHOTO | DELFHIN MUGO

Trainees during their graduation ceremony. PHOTO | DELFHIN MUGO

So, since training equips artisans with the requisite work ethics, the contractor will not have to worry about workers reporting to work late, materials disappearing from the site, or workers skipping work after being paid, something Mr Kimurwa said was common among casual labourers.

Then there is the issue of certification.

“When you train people and certify them, you provide a means of benchmarking. So, if you have 10 workers who hold, say Level One certificates, you know beforehand what to expect from each one of them in terms of output. Without training, it is a herculean task assessing them,” Mr Kimurwa added.

But certification is a double-edged sword for, besides enabling the employer to assess a worker’s output, the certification  gives the employee the right to demand a certain wage.

“If you don’t have any papers, your employer can decide you are worth Sh100 a day but with standardised training and certification, one can argue a strong case for remuneration based on qualification,” Mr Kimurwa noted.

Citing the case of Ms Ashioya, now a cleaner-cum-mason, Mr Kimurwa pointed out that “training acts as a stepping stone for such underprivileged people to go up the social ladder to attain better socio-economic welfare”.

Another important aspect the training tackled had to do with the health and safety of workers and those neighbouring  a construction site.

Ms Nissan said that training creates awareness of how to be safe while working at a construction site, not just for the workers, but also for the surrounding community.

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