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Strengthening of Technical and Vocational skills is key to achieving sustainable infrastructure gains.

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 The construction industry in Africa and Asia is steadily growing and many industry players, especially in Africa, believe the year 2014 is a year of great opportunity.

 In Uganda, key infrastructure projects have flagged off. Projects including New hydro-electric power dams, Government Hospitals, Secondary schools, Technical schools and regional stadia have commenced with many more slated for commissioning early 2014.

 This would have been a godsend to thousands of unemployed and quasi-employed youth across the country. Unfortunately most of the youth being churned out of the current education system are terribly deficient in basic practical and technical skills, leaving most employers with no choice but to import the skills.

 There a number of factors contributory to the malaise as has been raised in various discussions. Over the years, there has been a decline on emphasis and support by government to technical hands on skilling.  Over the recent past, government support to technical education and skilling has not been up to par.

 Technical institutes that were established especially during the early 1950’s by the missionaries, with the purpose of equipping youth with basic skills in carpentry, joinery and bricklaying, suffered neglect and most of them collapsed. Some that were taken up by government remained understaffed and ill-equipped. A few lucky ones like Uganda polytechnic Kyambogo were later to transform into higher institutions of learning in complete disregard of the intended purpose, which was to instil practical technical skills to lower ranks of the construction fraternity who do the actual work.

Progressively we lost the hands-on artisans and craftsmen at the expense of the higher grades who shun the intricacies of the blue-collar manual work and opt for supervisory roles, the “boss syndrome”. Hence the current crop of elitist diplomas and graduates that floods the current job market albeit with limited practical abilities and strengths.

 It is not uncommon nowadays to see expatriates on sites working as steel fixers, bricklayers, carpenters, name it, the kind that would fully engage our crop of youth. When faced with such a spectre we tend to apportion blame on whomever allows expatriates to compete with locals for blue collar jobs oblivious of the hard cold truth that we are terribly deficient in the required manual skills.

 The situation has been worsened by the increasing virtualization of almost every aspect of modern life. The virtual reality manifested through computerization has quickly replaced traditional work methods and practices. The softening of most thought and work processes has impaired all efforts of imparting manual skills on modern youth especially in developing countries. The current youth have grown through a life punctuated with simulations and virtual reality, a life of virtual trades and interactions, a life of cell phones, Mobile money, Automatic Teller Machines, PayPal, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, WhatsApp and Computer Aided Design, all at the expense of real life interaction and learning.

 Skills for doing the actual work can never be learnt the soft way. Real life skills are mastered through grueling hours of practice and toil.

 Most developed nations transitioned over the ages from pre-industrial (primitive), through the Industrial and now the Post- industrial (information and service) age making serious benchmarks along the way. It’s these benchmarks have steered their civilizations along subsequent development phases.

 Africa especially the part south of the Sahara has barely leaped from the peasant (read primitive) living and is seen to be quickly embracing the post-industrial, service and information driven age of computerization and virtualization without a backbone of infrastructure, industries and skills to provide for the real needs.

 A lot therefore needs to be done to close the blatant skills gap in order to consolidate and sustain the nation’s upcoming infrastructure gains.

 The government has already embarked on an initiative towards strengthening technical and vocational training, with the primary objective of ensuring that all government supported tertiary education is devoted to skills development especially in agriculture, business, sports, technical and vocational education. There are various rationale through which this is achievable, notably, the Skilling Uganda, BTVET (Business, Technical and Vocational Education Training) STRATEGIC PLAN 2011-2020, UGANDA VISION 2040, Article 261, the millennium development Goals and the Education for All Global Movement.

 A number of Technical Schools have already been slated for strengthening in terms of provision of new modern workshops, Libraries, training equipment and staff training with the support of various development agencies such as ADB, IDB, OFID, JICA and KOICA.

This promising development however, can only be sustainable and yield the intended results if more is done in developing a competence driven curriculum. There is also need for mutual understanding between the education sector and the industries for provision of on-job-training and industry exposure of students, provision of scholarships by the relevant industries to skilled students and placement of technical and vocational graduates.

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Kabandize Paschal is an architect in Kampala. As a trained professional and construction enthusiast i felt compelled to gather all construction tidbits i encounter in passing. The construction industry today is awash with diversity and therefore its very difficult to have all it takes in one grip. My life has been a constant attempt to bring it together, and i hope through this blog, the readers can complement my meagre efforts.

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