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Higher Education, Science and Innovation minister Blade Nzimande says that his department plans to work closely with the construction industry in the coming years to boost employment in the sector.
Speaking at a construction summit on Wednesday (27 January), the minister said that the collective impact of these and other sectoral interventions aims to bring South Africa back on course towards the targets set in the National Development Plan, which includes, amongst others, aiming to grow the South African economy at a rate of 5.4%.
“Prior to the devastation brought by Covid-19, the construction sector had also not been in the best of shapes in terms of investment, jobs, growth, inclusivity and skills,” he said. “The pandemic has only served to deepen the dire straits of a sector already on a downward spiral.”
Nzimande added that several big and small construction firms have folded or are holding on precariously for survival, with dire consequences for jobs, growth, entrepreneurship and skills development in the sector.
“What we are yearning for, is a construction sector with specific efforts devoted to a common path for recovery and rebuilding the sector in ways that go beyond the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
“But it must also be a construction sector that will deal with the historical structural and systemic challenges that always characterised the sector as a preserve of monopolies, (which are) white- and male-dominated.
“This character does not belong to a future construction sector that the government wants to build.”
Nzimande said his department is currently developing a skills strategy to support the country’s economic reconstruction and recovery plan.
He said that preliminary indications show that the following occupations are in demand:
Construction Project Managers;
Civil Engineering Technologists;
Civil Engineering Technicians;
The minister added that a new construction sector standard will mean that around 10% of the labour force on construction sites and in design offices will receive structured workplace skills training annually.
On public sector contracts, this will result in around:
R450 million spend on workplace training per year;
10,000 learning opportunities per year for further education and training learners/artisans; and
1,500 learning opportunities for candidates.
Nzimande said that through interventions, the industry must keep young people engaged, as well as address existing demographic balances.
“We know that unemployment for young people between the ages of 15 – 24 years old remains very high at 74.1% by the third quarter of 2020, whilst the number of those not in employment, education and/or training (NEET) for the same cohort remains high at 3.2 million.
“I remain concerned about the inadequate inclusion of women within the construction sector as women are hugely underrepresented.”
Out of the total workforce of 1,080,000 in the sector, women make up only 113,000 of the total whilst men make up 967,000, he said.
“We urgently need to address this clearly unacceptable situation and ensure that the construction sector reflects the demographics of our country.”