The capacity-building challenge

14 June 2013

By Neil Coker in Liberia

We’re busy. Organisations are starting to realise that consultants are in country and interest is really taking off.

Also, our training programme is generating excellent results.

In Liberia a key concern is capacity building. The needs range from upskilling individuals to educating small- and mid-sized construction companies.

Particular weaknesses lie in project and commercial skillsets and there is a generally poor understanding of health and safety and quality assurance.

Typical excavation for bridge construction in Grand Cape Mount County (Credit: Neil Coker)

It is now recognised that the only way to improve standards in the industry is to use imported expertise and use it to develop programmes to suit local needs.

Meetings happen a lot, and a high degree of flexibility and a sense of humour are essential.

On one occasion our meeting took place in an old building which badly needed refurbishing. The room had two aircon units which struggled manfully to cope, especially since half of the windows lacked glass. That was a very hot and sticky session.

Quality assurance, or lack of it, is a depressingly prevalent problem across nearly all projects in the region. The volumes of counterfeit and substandard materials detract from sometimes excellent works executed in very trying circumstances.

Corruption is an ever-present spectre. It’s exacerbated by low wages and a general apathy within certain elements of the workforce. You really have to work to mitigate this risk and ensure that the clients get what they are paying for.

Typical bush bridge in Grand Cape Mount County. (Credit: Neil Coker)

But it’s encouraging to see a political realisation that corruption has to be fought, and there are measures being taken to combat it.

The rainy season is upon us and we have to prepare our vehicles for the state the roads will be in. Our drivers have all been evaluated for four-wheel drive skills. Mud tyres, toolkits, recovery strops and cooler boxes have been purchased.

It’s no joke when a road in the bush is washed out or a vehicle gets stuck. We anticipate well over four metres of rainfall this season and the storms have already begun.

Material deliveries to remoter sites can just stop. This is one of the reasons why uncommonly detailed planning is essential in Liberia. But then, however good your plans, at the end of the day, Africa always wins.

Neil Coker is a project manager leading a World Bank funded construction education program in Liberia. Follow his experiences on Twitter: @CokerNeil

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