Talents migration leaves construction industry with jobs without professionals—Igbuan

Talent’s migration to foreign lands, popularly known as brain-drain, has hit the construction industry in Nigeria hard, leaving it with a scarcity of professionals to do the work that is available in the industry.

Igbuan Okaisabor, the CEO, of Construction Kaiser, who disclosed this to BusinessDay in an interview on the sideline of an industry-focused event in Lagos recently, described the loss of talents in the industry as a huge challenge.

The event which was organized by Construction Kaiser and Peri—a formwork and engineering firm—was aimed to foster collaboration among industry practitioners who hardly find time to network, compare industry notes or share experiences, according to Okaisabor.

He noted that the talent migration, which happens every year now, has been made worse by the closure of schools because of the university teacher’s strike, saying, “because of this, young graduates are no longer coming into the industry; so we are struggling.”

Because of the strategic economic role the construction industry plays as the largest employer of labour n Nigeria, Okaisabor urged the federal government to come up with ways to support the industry.

“We have a role we are playing in the economy and so, we should be supported to play that role. We should be given access to foreign exchange so that we can import what we need to import. This should be an incentive to help us do our work in the country,” he said.

He canvassed a special funding arrangement for the construction industry, noting that both the exchange rate and interest rate are too high. “How do you solve the housing problem on an interest rate of 20 percent and above per annum? It’s not possible,” he said.

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Okaisabor noted that the construction industry in Nigeria was growing unlike when it was dominated by foreign firms. According to him, “the project we are doing today, 10 years ago, we were not doing them. So we’re breaking this barrier and getting more Nigerians involved in big projects, and when Nigerians are involved in big projects, you are creating employment.”

Explaining the reason for engaging expatriates in his firm, he said it was part of their long-term plan which makes it necessary for them to learn. He noted that one of the expats has a two-year contract with them, noting that having worked for 20 years at Julius Berger, the expat knows something.

By the turn of 2023, Construction Kaiser, according to the CEO, would be 30 years in business. “Our story within this period has been that of impact; we have graduates we are training to own businesses. We are giving them lectures on how to do business the right way.

“We teach them to pay their taxes and do things honestly; they don’t have to take bribes; we are also lecturing them on finance, taxation, quality, safety, construction, leadership, organizational design, etc and we are happy to note that they are really doing well,” he said.

Operating in the current economic situation in Nigeria where inflation, naira devaluation and high energy costs have made everything difficult, Okaisabor revealed that it had been tough, adding, “if I say it is easy, that would be a lie. But as an entrepreneur, you have to strive to navigate the challenges.”

Part of the efforts at navigating the challenges, he said, was on the procurement process which they used to have, maybe 3-5 years ago, but they could not think of having that now. “This is because where we used to have fixed price contract before because there was a little bit of flexibility on the foreign exchange at that time, the volatility in foreign exchange is just too much for us to predict anything.

“Where we used to give validity of our prices for three to six months, we now give two weeks because after two weeks we have to revalidate. And for us the most important thing is to ensure that the people working with us are able to remain in employment; we also think of strategies and different creative ways to ensure that we keep our head above water,” he said.

Okaisabor explained that why they had to remain in business was because, with about 200 employees, families depended on them just as people depended on vendors and suppliers. “I always tell people to navigate responsibilities to keep this company going for the sake all the people whose lives depend on the company,” he emphasized.

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