Status of Quality in Construction Industry

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The Scriptures reveal to us that after God created the world He stood back in appreciation and confirmed that it was VERY GOOD! (Genesis 1:31.). Yet many of us who have called out a plumber, carpenter or builder to carry out some work for us have ended up on most occasions being dissatisfied with the service. It’s common practice for one to change craftsmen on account of poor workmanship. The “Very Good” feeling about their work is absent in many a tradesman’s work. This begs the question as to what exactly is the state of tradesmen in Zambia. It’s either the tradesman do not possess the necessary skills or have a poor work culture. In order to appreciate the genesis of the problem facing us today one has to go back in history.

Before independence, the colonial masters used an apprentice system to equip tradesmen for the task they needed to do. Training was largely on the job when skills were transferred from a master craftsman to an apprentice by observation, imitation and repetition. In a time where formal education was not prevalent, many of our forefathers acquired necessary skills mostly through the apprentice system. This was a very effective and accessible way of “hands on” training that brought out a generation of skilled workers who in some cases, like in the mining industry, were certified as Master Craftsmen.

The advent of independence brought with it a quest for white collar jobs. Hands on craft skills were largely seen as belonging to those who could not make it through the education ladder. The post-independence leaders, in their desire to develop the country, embarked on a number of projects in infrastructure which included the building of schools and colleges. The first university was also built in order to meet the growing need of the independent Zambia. The impact of this was three fold. Firstly, the quantum and quantity of projects embarked upon outstripped the available resources of skilled labour prompting the need to outsource labour elsewhere popularly known as expatriate staff. Secondly, although trade schools and technical colleges were established, the graduates were not sufficient to meet the growing need of an expanding economy. Thirdly, the apprentice system which had the merits of transferring skills from a seasoned Master Craftsman to a young person took a back seat in the light of formal education. The much needed skills transfer mechanism therefore faded away as most Master Craftsmen retired.

In a recent past the situation of tradesmen has even been worsened as most trade schools have been converted into universities. A case in point is the conversion of the “Zambia Institute of Technology” into what is now known as the Copperbelt University. The net result is that Technical Vocation and Entrepreneurship Authority (TEVETA) is now producing low numbers of construction related craftsmen compared with the demand. The recent boom experienced in the construction industry has just served to bring into sharp focus the skills shortage. It is hardly surprising therefore that some who would be mere helpers to tradesmen are masquerading and offering themselves as craftsmen. This group of people would not have spent enough time in training with the master craftsmen to master the skills of the trade. Despite this fact they boldly do not hesitate to offer themselves to fill vacancies because of the prevailing high demand of construction activities. This practice of employing unqualified artisans who have neither acquired skills through an apprentice system nor through a trade school is largely responsible for poor workmanship in the industry. From the above scenario, it is clear that there is need to redress the situation if a high quality of work is to be carried out in a sustainable manner that is beneficial to society. Many universities are being established, while few trade schools are coming up. Whereas universities offer intellectual knowledge, trade schools like the apprentice system, offer “hands on” practical skills.

The market therefore is crying out for a university that excels not only in academia but has also the accompanying skills of practical work. Such a university would answer and would remain relevant to the current social need in Zambia. ACU has been established to fill that vacuum with a Christian perspective. When God created man He put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it well before the fall. ACU will set pace for a skill oriented curriculum that is not deficient in intellectual excellence. The University will aim to uphold biblical work ethics that produce quality products from skills developed during training within the theoretical knowledge acquired in its quest to bring solutions to society’s problems. Graduates from the institution would in the long run save on time of execution of projects, manage cost overruns and ensure that a high standard of job performance is maintained. The benefits to the economy are enormous, especially if the graduate rises to supervisory levels. He or she would ensure quality jobs are carried out at first attempt without being repeated and so bring savings both in cost and time. As quality jobs would be carried out to a set standard, there would also be an intrinsic assurance of value for money as product will perform as designed. The ACU will instil in the graduates to rediscover the “Very Good” Concept. May the Lord bless the vision of ACU.