Algeria, June 7, 2017

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Real estate players decry shortage of skilled plumbers, masons

Investors in the real estate sector have decried the shortage of skilled artisans in the industry.

Their concern is that there are more engineers and architects that universities are producing than number of middle-level diploma and certificate holders graduating in tertiary institutions.

This, they say, has led to to a serious labour imbalance in the crucial sector and have called for training in tertiary institutions to bridge the widening gap.

At the Coast for instance, there are at least 1,000 architects and engineers, against about 200 trained artisans specialising in masonry, plumbing and painting, a situation that should ordinarily be the other way round, Kenya Projects founder and chief executive officer David Kanyi notes.

“It’s very serious since we already have a crisis and if we go on like this the construction sector is likely to get into a halt in the near future,” he said in an interview.

Limited numbers

The limited number of artisans in the relevant fields has led to poor workmanship on major projects, and in some instances, sections of a house have to be demolished and redone after engineers assess the works and find them to be of low standards, he said.

Kenya Projects, which is taking advantage of the gap created by expensive housing in Kenya, has committed to invest Sh4 billion to build 1,000 units of affordable or houses in Mombasa and Nairobi.

The budget houses are of different sizes and comprise two-bedroom maisonettes with modest finishes, going for between Sh1.5 and Sh2.5 million per unit.

“At the moment we have few plumbers, masons, electricians and painters.
Somebody might say that one does not need to be trained on painting but that is not the truth. Skills such as paint mixing have to be taught and at the moment there are very few painters around who can give you an impeccable job,” said Mr Kanyi.

“Whereas we need at least 20 plumbers and electricians for all the 60 projects we undertake at any given time we only have four while there are only three painters but about 10 are required.

Jobs mismatch

“There is clearly a mismatch between the job market needs and training, a situation that policy makers need to look at. At the moment we are doing some in-house training to try and address the crisis,” he added.

The concern comes at a time when most tertiary colleges have been converted to universities where more graduates than diploma holders in crucial areas are being trained

The Kenya Federation of Master Builders (KFMB) is also concerned about the skills gap and is undertaking training programmes in collaboration with other stakeholders to try and bridge the gap, according to David Jomeli, the technical director.

He said there are about 5,000 engineers and architects countrywide, whereas there are less than 2,000 trained plumbers, painters and masons.

“The problem is that everybody is rushing to take up courses in engineering and architecture, which leaves the artisan jobs without manpower, and yet at the moment these are the jobs that are well paying.

'We are also sensitising Kenyans to encourage their children to undergo training in these fields,” he said.

Scarce labour

“There is need for youths to embrace blue as opposed to white collar jobs through training of artisans because labour is scarce in these fields,” added Mr Jomeli, who is also a facilitator for the National Construction Authority in training of contractors and skilled construction workers.

The trainings he facilitates include site management and environmental safety, with focus on how the county governments can provide more opportunities for artisans to utilise their skills for self-employment.

“You find that even in the national budget the informal sector takes a back seat and artisan jobs are not attractive to many because there is a perception they are for primary and secondary school drop outs.

'But this is what we want to change and the government should give incentives to promote to promote artisan businesses,” he added.

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