27 August 2019

The construction sector is in dire
straits with many construction companies under immense pressure from
retrenchments and possible business closure. This frustration is compounded by
surrounding rural communities that often work for local construction companies.

When a new project is earmarked for a
rural community, many problems and expectations arise, largely due to a
miscommunication between the community and the construction company. These
communities continue to live in poverty with poor service deliveries leading to
exasperation and frustration. So, what can be done to diminish the tension
between communities and construction companies?

Unscrupulous and Unrealistic

The communities’ frustrations and
expectations have led to construction projects being held ransom. Recently,
Aveng-Strasbag had to stop work on its’ R1.6bn contract to build a
bridge over the Mtentu River. They cited excessive demands by the community as
the reason for choosing to cut their losses.  Another construction site
was closed as workers hired from the community wanted bonuses simply for
attending work.

In addition, community representatives
may have their own power plays and want to show the rest of the community and
the construction company how important they are by calling for community protests.

Can this community behaviour be avoided?

These demands may be avoided by
construction companies being proactive on how issues are initially communicated
between themselves and community leaders.  A construction project has a
beginning and an end date. Yet this is not often communicated to the members of
the community or they simply refuse to understand this concept, i.e. community
members insist on permanent employment, despite its being a limited-time construction

Research, Mediating and Consulting Are

When working within a community it is
important to approach a consultation company which acts as a facilitator and
intermediary between the construction company and the community.

This intermediary looks at all points of
view from community issues to the construction project. This same intermediary
can help advise the construction project on how to avoid potential pitfalls and
protests. The consultancy will research similar big companies that have
previously been involved in that community, and highlight ‘red flags’ and how
the community reacted to decisions made by the company. The consultation
company also advises on the strategy to follow to mitigate risk. Furthermore,
understanding the community dynamics before breaking ground is essential to a
successful construction project, particularly in rural South Africa.

It is recommended that perhaps one of
the best avenues, prior to commencing with the project, is that the company
conducts skills assessment tests. Members of the community who have building
skills, but do not have the paperwork, or perhaps have a letter from their
previous employee, could still be part of the project due to their vast
experience. without putting the project at risk, there is an advantage to
recognising previous experience and including members of the community.

Leaving a Legacy

In terms of upskilling, the construction
company is not required upskill locals. However, if the business embraces good
corporate governance, then the question arises – what is the legacy you would
like to leave behind? Part of positive brand building and leaving a long-term
legacy is achieved with upskilling programmes where community members are able
to work on the next project, thereby making the projects more sustainable for
the community.

Upskilling may also assist with
unreasonable demands from the community. If a company is proactive in leaving a
positive legacy and it spends money on upskilling, then there is less chance
for people to follow disruptive elements within the community.

information from Janine
Espin, Tel: 011 447 4683

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