Murray and Roberts invests into skills development enterprise and community projects

07 February 2014

Murray and Roberts executive director of sustainability Andrew Skudder chats about the group’s decision to use a third of its net profit on skills development.

Last year‚ Murray and Roberts put about a third of its profit after tax into skills development enterprise and community projects. Joining us now to discuss the motivation behind this spend is Andrew Skudder‚ the executive responsible for sustainability at Murray and Roberts.

It is actually a lot of money‚ although I’m wondering if it’s always a third of your profit‚ or just last year? … R300m was a third‚ but nevertheless R300m is a weighty chunk of money.

Why do you put so much towards your corporate social investment (CSI) projects‚ because it does seem to be possibly higher than the average?

Andrew Skudder: Sure and of course it doesn’t only encapsulate our CSI projects‚ it encapsulates our development of skills and development of small contractors through our enterprise development programmes and our CSI expenditure.

It really goes back to the heritage of Murray and Roberts — this is something that we’ve been doing all our lives and it’s a critical part of our contribution to the sustainability of our industry‚ to the sustainability of our country because without well-skilled individuals we’re unable to deliver the services that are so critical to socioeconomic development.

BDTV: When you say that it’s been a longstanding issue within the company to put money towards training of artisans‚ etcetera‚ training of contractors … has it become more critical though in the last‚ say decade‚ following the government’s decision to close down artisanal and technical colleges?

AS: Yes‚ it has been more important for us to do that … to ensure that we’ve got the right type of skills that we require to deliver on our mandates to clients and to society. But what’s very pleasing at the moment‚ is it’s a huge collaborative approach between our clients‚ between the education sector and the private sector to deliver on these skills.

So for example‚ on the Medupi project in Lephalale‚ Eskom contracted with us through Hitachi to deliver 700 artisans in boiler-making‚ rigging‚ welding — really critical skills for our society. So we’ve partnered with the local FET (Further Education and Training) college and with Merseta (Manufacturing‚ Engineering and Related Services Seta) who are co-funding the initiative so that we can deliver on that promise. So there is far more collaboration currently‚ and it’s really critical to the future success of the skills development of our country.
BDTV: In particular‚ what skills do you find are lacking and where especially do you have to put the money?

AS: Sure‚ there’s a broad range of skills that goes all the way from experienced project managers‚ to artisans and semi-skilled workers‚ but the real opportunity for employment in our country is in the semi-skilled and the skilled artisan area because there are large numbers of people that can be deployed to major infrastructure projects.

For example‚ up at Medupi‚ there are 17‚000 employees there‚ 5‚000 of which are semi-skilled and unskilled employees from the local community who have been trained to be bricklayers‚ boilermakers‚ welders‚ fitters‚ turners … that kind of thing and those are the critical skills.

BDTV: Is that enough‚ what you do … can you actually step into the breach left by a university or a technikon or an FET college or good schooling? … Do you find it’s enough that the private companies like yours come in when people are already employed to give them their training‚ or is there a foundation that’s really missing and will always put us at a disadvantage to other skilled operators from other countries?

AS: Sure‚ the foundation is the education system … and it is critical that we as business also support our government in their education system … that’s where the majority of our CSI spend goes — to support them.

But the corporate sector and other nongovernmental organisations spend about R2bn a year on education reform which is a drop in the ocean relative to the government’s budget. So yes‚ we can share the burden and the obligation to enhance our education system‚ but we really need government to deliver on their mandate‚ which is education. But we’re more than willing to support that because of the importance to the sustainability of our company‚ our industry and our country‚ frankly.

BDTV: It’s not just about education though‚ it’s also about‚ as you said‚ supporting contractors so you talk about enterprise development … I think you said R143m or‚ in fact‚ a chunk of the R300m that you spent last year‚ goes towards contractors. What exactly do you do … how do you spend that money?

AS: The first place that we start is that we provide job opportunities for subcontractors. We in the construction industry and particularly in building subcontract 70% or 80% of our work to subcontractors and so it’s about giving them first and foremost the opportunity for continuous work. While they’re in our enterprise and development programmes we support them with the funding‚ early payment mechanisms‚ with mentoring‚ administration support and sometimes training and development of their employees in the skills that we require them to be trained in.

BDTV: It’s quite interesting that you are making this public and I do feel that potentially it’s towards good PR for the construction industry after the very bad PR that it brought upon itself in the last couple of years with the Competition Commission investigation fast-track settlement.

Do you feel that your message is getting out there‚ or do you feel that there’s going to have to be a lot more spend towards CSI projects and training and contractors made more public in order to‚ I suppose‚ appease the relationship that you have with government‚ for example‚ or with the public?

AS: Sure‚ there is no more important time than us as an industry to be demonstrating the good that we’re doing in society and I don’t think we’ve been telling the whole story about who we are as an industry and our contribution to society.

It’s an enormous one. We employ hundreds of thousands of people in our society‚ we create jobs‚ we create skilled people through our skills development‚ we support small contractors‚ and these are all the drivers that our government is trying to get business to be involved in. And I guess that business hasn’t been good at telling their whole story about their contribution to society and it’s important that we do that.

BDTV: Do you feel a bit defensive about … because certainly government hasn’t made the kind of noises that they … and the message that comes from government towards construction is a very negative one‚ I feel‚ certainly over the last few months or so. What kind of situation or position does it put you in‚ particularly when you’re doing work with parastatal entities?

AS: The negative press we’ve received is justified. We cannot condone what has happened in our past and our job now is to prevent that under our leadership and we’re putting in place all the measures we possibly can to do that.

But business has been good for society and the fundamental role of business in society is the creation of jobs and what we’re trying to do here is create a balanced view around the role of business in society … because it’s important that all stakeholders understand that.

Yes‚ we mustn’t break the law‚ we mustn’t do unethical things and we’re totally against that kind of thing‚ but there’s great work that business in South Africa does to support the agendas of our nation‚ including unemployment‚ inequality‚ poverty and we’ve got a wonderful message‚ not only as our industry‚ but as business in general.

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