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Resources >  Training for Small-Scale Construction Enterprises in Developing Countries

Training for Small-Scale Construction Enterprises in Developing Countries: Overview

One of my last projects in Sierra Leone was to design and build some prototype low-cost rural primary schools.  Some of these prototypes were then used in a larger donor-funded project set up to construct small primary schools in remote rural locations using small-scale construction enterprises.

The managers of the project were warned by myself and other consultants with knowledge of the local construction industry that these enterprises would require a great deal of technical assistance and oversight if they were to successfully carry out the work because, even though most of them were technically quite capable of carrying out the work, they had little experience of pricing and tendering for jobs, of project planning or of financial management and if they did not receive such assistance then things would likely go badly wrong.

And so it proved: many of the enterprises under-priced the work and then got into financial difficulties; some of them disappeared with their advance payments; others spent their advances on new cars or trucks and not on materials or plant and others simply went bankrupt with the result that many of the schools were never finished.  Fortunately or unfortunately, the project was abandoned before many of these problems became apparent because of civil unrest.

When I started work on the health project that I managed in the Solomon Islands, a similar project to the Sierra Leone one was being prepared to construct extensions to secondary schools again using small-scale construction enterprises.  Although these enterprises were supervised by experienced local architects and engineers, they again received no assistance or support in pricing, tendering and managing the works with similar results to those in Sierra Leone.  Most of the owners of the enterprises were carpenters or masons who had worked for one of the large contractors in the country before going it alone.  They were usually very good at their craft but again had little or no experience of pricing or tendering for jobs, of project planning or of financial management.

In this case the consultants who were supervising the construction had to take over the management of the construction programme.  The individual contracts were converted into management contracts where the consultants took joint control of the contractors’ bank accounts; ordered and paid for the materials from the suppliers; valued the work carried out by each contractor every month and then paid the contractors for labour, overheads and profit.  Without the management provided by the consultants, the project would probably have suffered the same fate as the project in Sierra Leone.

I became aware of this situation because I was dealing with the same consultants and therefore, with the assistance of a local quantity surveyor, set up a training course for those managers of small-scale construction enterprises who were interested in gaining more skills.  Quite a few managers followed the course and it was quite successful in upgrading the skills of those who participated.  In setting up and running the course we used training materials that had been developed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The ILO were very aware of the kinds of problems that small-scale construction enterprises in the developing world were having and had set up a construction management programme in Ghana in the mid-1970s.  With this as the background and using the experience gained over 20 years the ILO started a ‘Improve Your Construction Business’ (IYCB) programme in the 1990s, again in Ghana.  This proved to be very popular and very successful and a number of training documents were developed and are available for use and they are attached to this section.

The need for training of small contractors has been obvious to me in nearly all of the developing countries that I have worked in and I can recommend these publications to anyone who wishes to do any training of small-scale construction enterprises in developing countries.  They cover a variety of useful topics such as estimating and tendering, project planning, productivity, book-keeping and money management, contract law including claims, business management, etc. 

The most directly useful publications are the Pricing and Bidding Handbook and the Pricing and Bidding Workbook. Other documents that give further information and a background to the development of the training programme are: Construction Management Programme: Small-Scale Construction Enterprises in Ghana: Practices, Problems and Needs; Construction Management Programme: The Impact of the ILO Construction Management Programme on the Development of Small Construction Enterprises and Training Contractors for Results and a Guide for Trainers and Training Managers.

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