Access to Trained Labor - An Interview with Samuel Gondwe of UNCTAD and ITC


The construction sector in the developing markets is relying to more than 80% on a workforce which is fed by the informal sector. This often means that the workers are not adequately trained to work in the construction sector which causes immediate health and safety issues. Even worse, this untrained work force is not able to build high quality buildings. Building collapse crises such as in Nigeria, Brazil or Bangladesh, leaving hundreds dead and thousands injured, are symptomatic for the effects an untrained workforce can have on a whole building. An interview with Samuel Gondwe, National Projects officer for UNCTAD and ITC, will shed more light on existing solutions for access to trained labor.


Q: What are the reasons for the difficulty of accessing trained construction workers in developing countries?

The capacity of training institutions is very low, often using curricula that is outdated and not responding to new practices and materials.

The lack of practical skills training through industrial attachment is another common issue for all artisan type training programs. 

Also, the rapid growth in the construction sector for most developing countries driven by the influence of Chinese investments has meant the exacerbation of the skills shortage.

In cases like Zambia, FDI driven construction projects tend to imply using foreign labour from a country which is funding the projects and thereby denying local labour to up-skill itself. 

Q: Could you describe an example of a solution which has been tested to address the challenge of access to trained construction workers?


Introducing industry actors into the realm of training aligned to their product offerings or corporate agenda is a great example of how to bridge this gap. This is very true for introducing novel technologies that require a lower skill set to deliver such as interlocking bricks and prefabricated slab or roofing solutions.  Such partners are able to take on multiple cohorts of artisans into product-specific academies as a way of developing a market or gaining market share by ensuring there are skilled people able to deliver a great product or solution. Actors from many different industries could participate in providing practical training. In Zambia, for example, we are working with Saint Gobain who is training contractors on how to use their products and delivering solutions to their standard. 

Another option is to encourage the development of skills transfer academies that seek to work with under-privileged and under-skilled people by attaching them to community infrastructure development projects which can serve as practical training centers. The NGO Build It International, as an example, is developing people in Zambian rural areas through a combination of practical and theoretical training. Together, we intent to train masons in producing and building with cement stabilized earth blocks. 

Investment in the institutional capacity of the vocational training sector is also very important and must be supported from a technical assistance perspective by development organizations and industry while governments provide fiscal support where possible.

Q: What are the key actions needed to take that solution to scale? 

Integrating actors from industry for solution formulation is key. Ultimately, private sector developers and contractors must be willing to buy into the proposed solutions and the most effective way to do this is to demonstrate first economic and then social benefit. 

About the Zambia Green Jobs Program

The Zambia Green Jobs Programme is a partnership between the Government of Zambia and the United Nations (UN), including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), The United Nations Environment programme (UNEP), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The programme is led by the ILO, with financial assistance from the Governments of Finland and Sweden; it is aimed at promoting more and better jobs for inclusive and green growth in sectors where goods and services can be produced with an environmental benefit. Want to learn more? Visit the website of Zambia Green Jobs Programme.