A Concept Proposal: To meet acute shortage of skilled labour in Construction Industry
Sep 02, 2016 – Establishment of a Construction Service Force ( CSF) similar to the Civil Defense Force (Civil Security Department) in order to meet the acute shortage of skilled labour in the Construction Industry of Sri Lanka.
(1) Background: Productivity, quality, sustainability and innovation are becoming driving forces for the Sri Lankan construction industry. Hence, development of human resource capabilities has become a necessity.
Labour intensiveness and current practice of employing unskilled labour has restrained productivity growth in the sector. Low wage rates in the industry have reduced the incentive to use new construction technology and methods. Thus, in order the enhance productivity and performance, it is necessary to promote and enforce the use of skilled labour.
Construction Industry is directly related to the infrastructure facilitation for the National Development and its Productivity is a crucial factor to be analyzed for National Planning scenarios. Size of the Construction Workforce comprising the semi skilled and skilled categories reflects the capability and capacity of the National Construction Industry.
Productivity and the sustainability are key binding factors which depend on each other for the growth in the Construction Industry. In any industrial or social context the operating structure resembles a pyramidal shape for the self stability. When this shape distorts, the healthiness of that frame loses its balance. The present context of Sri Lankan Construction Industry paints that distorted Ill figure of the Industrial manpower pyramid.
It indicates clearly that the category of skill technician has dropped in size and the adjacent layers of manpower categories too have been adjusted accordingly to get the distorted ill figure of the pyramid. This structure would not sustain for long and it should definitely be fallen unless the gap is filled by developing local workforce or facilitating influx of foreign workers.
The real figures of the need for skills and field expertise to cater the demand, are not known as no recent survey has been done on craftsmen categories available in the country. However there are unconfirmed reports to illustrate a demand figure of approximately 30,000 to 40,000 craftsmen to be catered to construction sites of 8,000 to 10,000. While the entire employment segment of the Industry in Sri Lanka is approximately 650,000 including Professionals, Technicians, Supervisory and Management cadres and craftsmen categories, it is approximated that 60 70 % represent this important segment of real building blocks of the industry, i.e. craftsmen. Thus the balance amount empirically falls into indirect and non skilled segments.
The adverse effect of that is, adhoc deployment of foreign workers in most projects which are either negotiated or unsolicited. However it is evident that this is the result of the Shortage of skilled craftsmen to cater the domestic demand. The impact of a potential skill shortage is a severe issue which is not unique to the Sri Lankan construction industry. Difficulties in meeting client requirements on time and loss of business to competitors due to lack of labour force and skill shortage, were highlighted by many construction companies. Currently, the construction industry experiences a boom where companies find it difficult to find required labour force to satisfy the demand. Frequent hiring and training of workforce adds a heavy burden on the industry.
(2) Objective of the proposed Institutional Arrangement : Inability to attract and develop a local work force to the industry due to the nature of this industry has been a bane to the growth. On the other hand the younger generation is not attracted due to lack of social recognition for the technician grade professions of the trade. However the growing tendency of Skill Emigration exhibits inadequate financial status in the sector and therefore a revision to the salary scale for technical services is also proposed to be attended by relevant authorities, as a remedial solution.
(3) Rationale of the proposal
3.1 Context of National Vocational Qualification framework: Tertiary Vocational Education Commission, (TVEC) in association with the Skills Development Project, (SDP) funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), introduced the national certification system for the Technical and Vocational Education & Training, (TVET) sector of Sri Lanka, which is called the National Vocational Qualification, (NVQ) framework with effect from January 2005.
The prime objective of NVQ framework is to facilitate the manpower skill development in the industry.
As the global demand for skills and training has continued to rise, institutions related to Sri Lankan Construction Industry tend to use NVQ framework in developing skill standards for the industry. Human resources for the construction industry formally acquire competencies by attending training courses conducted by organisations such as Construction Industry Development Authority, (CIDA), Technical/University Collages, Department of Technical Education and Training, (DTET) and National Apprentice and Industrial Training authority, (NAITA). As per the TEVT guide the local and foreign yearly demand is 20,000 as against the non -confirmed industry reports of 30,000 40,000. Nevertheless only 10,000 are produced collectively by all these training institutions annually.
The balance demand is deemed to be fulfilled by semi-skilled and unskilled categories with foreign workers representing for less than 5%.
In this backdrop Government took a landmark decision to equate academic qualifications to vocational qualifications in order to increase the employability of youth in the country, as practised in the other parts of the world.
In this connection, obtaining NVQ Level 3 and 4 have been equated to passing Ordinary Level and Advance Level streams , respectively for the purpose of recruitment in a relevant field.
3.2 Initiatives on Skills Development : In order to assist the present development drive of the Government, and as per Budget allocations of 2016, a funding arrangement of Rs. 500 million was dedicated for a Skills Development program for the industry, which commenced in May 2016.
A three (03) month comprehensive on-site training has been proposed in this program which is scoped to be certified with NVQ level 03 qualifications, at the successful completion.. However, in order to ensure the quality of training and enhanced performance, the need has arisen to engage the candidates in on-site training.
The monitoring of the program has been entrusted to CIDA and to the Ministry of Housing and Construction, under which CIDA operates.
In order to achieve the anticipated productivity, a standard training curriculum has been developed for these training programs by CIDA.
To acquire optimum results and in order to make efficient deploying of trainees in the worksites spread throughout the country, CIDA has entered into an MOU with the National Construction association of Sri Lanka, (NCASL) to share this important national responsibility of producing a competent workforce for the construction industry.
The target group of this national skills development program is school leavers and unskilled categories already engaged in the industry.
However the expected momentum of this program is yet to gather , as only 3000 trainees have expressed their interest to join with , out of a target of 12,000 trainees.
Further the situation cites further concerns since few hundreds have engaged in the real on-site training program, conducted collectively by both institutions.
This is recorded despite a monthly stipend of Rs.10,000 being paid for the candidates deployed in construction sites spread throughout the island.
3.3 Nurture the Desire to Work in the Construction Industry as a Local Workforce:
Nurturing a desire amongst the local workforce to enter the construction industry is imperative for the survival of the industry.
The current trend of non-reliance on existing training context by the youth of the country shall not be continued given the future direction of the country.
3.4 Lessons learnt: The success story of Civil Security Department of Sri Lanka :
The activities relating to the Home Guard Service has been established under the Mobilization of Supplementary Force Act No. 40 of 1985.
The service personnel had been all volunteers deployed in their home towns and villages, to protect the civilian population from attacks by the LTTE.
With the establishment of Civil Security Department, the Home Guards were re-designated as the Civil Security Force and came under the purview of the Ministry of Defence.
Numbers employed amounting to 41500, functions of the Civil Security Department had been broad-based as per Gazette notification No 1462/20 dated 13th September 2006.
It had continued to uplift the livelihood of the communities living in all parts of the country through undertaking many projects in a multitude of spheres varying from agriculture to construction in a cultural, spiritual and social welfare background.
Recognising the importance of this force, Sri Lankan government continued to endow CSD with strength and endeavor in order to accomplish expectations towards the national development process of the country.
(4) Recommendations :
The phenomenal growth record of the initial Home Guard Service to end up as a giant nation building force is proposed to be taken as an example to strategize a model workforce for the construction industry.
The recognition it carries as a state department with pensionable benefits etc, will be a boost to attract most young groups. If this industry model can successfully improve the image of the industry to attract more local workforce, it can also address the issue of skilled human capital retention.
Improving the industry image and sustainability will help to retain this critical group of workforce, thereby protecting an industry which contributes to more than 10 % of the GDP of the country.
(1) The training modules for the proposed CSF shall move away from traditional methods and promote new construction technologies and practices.
(2) The knowledge and skill sharing with foreign workers is also identified as a method of enhancing the skills of this local workforce. For this mixing arrangements with foreign workers when OJT is being carried out, are proposed.
(3) Potential recruits shall commence during tenure in Schools. This will help increase the likelihood of them joining the construction industry.
(4) A comprehensive promotional program is necessary to counter the perception of construction as a “Dirty, Dangerous, Difficult” industry and also to promote it as a rewarding employment with attractive prospects.
(5) The promotional materials need to highlight the increasing importance of professional skills and the trend towards greater use of technology in construction.
(6) A mechanism to attract women to this Force to be trained as skilled craftspersons in trades such as electrical and plumbing shall be considered since demand in the garment industry is diminishing.
(7) The initial size of the force may be approx 5,000 which is to be expanded later as per the demand.
(8) The funding component of “CIDA fund” dedicated for the proposed pension/ insurance scheme for craftsmen , shall be diverted to this Fund.
(9) The model can be converted into a profit earning venture, by hiring the force for the private parties / individual organizations.
(10) The possibilities of operating in a PPP mode , distancing from a Department mode , is also to be explored.
Eng. S. Amarasekara – B.Sc Eng. (Hons) , AMIE (SL) , MBA ( MOT)
Director (Development) ,
Construction Industry Development Authority.