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SA could find itself short of skilled construction workers in the next decade, says PPC MD Njombo Lekula.
Skills retention and transfer are two of the many problems the industry is hoping its construction masterplan will resolve.
The industry is also asking for local content designation, hoping that this will help with the fight against cheap non-South African cement.
South Africa could find itself short of skilled construction workers in the next decade, unless retention and skills transfer are prioritised. This according to Njombo Lekula, Southern African managing director of Pretoria Portland Cement (PPC).
Lekula, who was speaking at a PPC roundtable on localisation on Wednesday, explained that South Africa’s construction industry has highly skilled people, but is losing these workers to other countries, while young people are choosing not to study construction.
"A once very highly sought-out construction country is not going to have skills and it’s going to be a shame if, in 15 years' time, we have to import the skills to actually build our own country," he said.
He added that there needs to be a skills transfer from older, more experienced construction industry employees to younger people.
Skills retention and transfer are two of the many issues the industry is hoping its construction masterplan - that it has begun engaging the Department of Trade Industry and Competition (DTIC) on - will resolve.
Lekula added that the plan will also look at the inclusion of universities to ensure skills delivery and conduct research on how to unlock the industry.
The plan is similar to the automotive and poultry masterplans that are being implemented and will also look at resolving structural issues in the industry and other challenges like so-called "construction mafias" – where some construction sites in South Africa have been the target of gangs that demand a cut from companies and developers, or take over projects illegally.
Another important aspect about the plan is that it will clarify the role of small and medium enterprises in construction, he said.
"What is [pleasing] is that when we started proposing the masterplan, [DTIC] Minister [Ebrahim] Patel was very amicable to it," he added.
While work on the masterplan continues, the construction industry is eagerly waiting for the International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa (ITAC) to impose tariffs on cement imports from Vietnam.
The industry has been grappling with cheap imports that have flooded South Africa, which began rising between 2013 and 2015, undercutting local suppliers and raising concerns about the future of the country’s companies.
In order for ITAC to impose duties, there must be proof that that certain countries are dumping their cement in South Africa, Lekula said.
"We were successful with that [proving dumping] and we got very high tariffs on Pakistani cement," he said.
Lekula was referring to the anti-dumping duties of between 14% and 77% that ITAC imposed on Pakistan in late 2015. These imports came with a sunset clause for the end of 2020, which has since been renewed, meaning that the industry has been afforded a longer reprieve from Pakistan-made cement.
But Vietnam quickly filled the void left by Pakistan and now the industry has turned to ITAC for protection from that country too. ITAC is still working on the protection application.
The industry is also asking for local content designation for government infrastructure, hoping that this will help with the fight against the cheap non-South African cement.
"We seem to have half won that battle because from the information we have from the DTIC, they have supported it," he said.
But that designation will have to be gazetted for the industry to benefit and Lekula said there hasn’t been a timeframe provided for that.
By: Penelope Mashego