Kenya’s construction industry is facing a potential crisis in skilled labour. According to the Oxford Business Group 2018 report, the country has a shortage of building professionals despite the large number of noteworthy construction projects the country.
The construction industry is a labour intensive industry and as the country plans to undertake its biggest housing projects yet, the demand for skilled labour in the industry will increase significantly.
The Oxford Group survey established that, the low number of construction professionals is as a result of the low enrollment in the countries technical vocational training institutes. Already, according to the report, Kenya relies heavily on contracted workers from abroad which has increased the wage bill and overall construction cost for builders in the country.
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Although there is no shortage of unskilled labour due to the country’s high levels of unemployment especially among the youth, what is lacking is a critical mass of ‘degree-holding professionals for specialized infrastructure projects.’
In recent projects, especially in the railways and water sectors, the government largely employed foreigners to do the work. The Chinese are especially beholden due to their high technology, skill and efficiency of execution.
However, these have at a cost to the government, increasing the overall cost of the projects to the taxpayer while at the same time having to forego potential income. Most local contractors have been elbowed out of the big projects because few local firms have the capacity and efficiency required to deliver in large scale projects.
As the government begins to roll out the 500,000 affordable housing scheme, the long-term plan has to take into account the need for skilled labour. The report recommends measures such as upskilling the workforce in the industry to keep pipeline projects viable. Labour costs form a significant part of any project and letting them get out of control can make the cost of construction unsustainable.
According to the National Construction Authority (NCA), only 18 per cent of the workforce in the industry are formally trained while 81 per cent of them received skills from on site experience. The authority undertakes periodical training and accreditation of professionals, contractors and workers in the industry but there is more to be done.
The Oxford Group report affirms that ‘there is s gap in skills and knowledge to meet the dynamic needs of the industry.’ According to the recently released Africa construction report, the total number of projects in East Africa rose significantly in 2018, by 96% with a corresponding increase in value of 167% from 2017. A majority of the projects in the region were undertaken in Kenya, which highlights the need for skilled labour in the industry.