Bahamians not first choice for employment in construction industry

Bahamians not first choice for employment in construction industry
President of the Bahamian Contractors Association, Leonard Sands.

The predominantly Chinese workforce of China Construction America (CCA) has prompted the head of the Bahamas Contractors Association (BCA) to lobby the government to “look out more” for Bahamians when it comes to securing construction job.

In an interview with Eyewitness News Online, BCA President Leonard Sands said, “Who should be looking out for Bahamians is the government.”

“I say this clearly that the government of The Bahamas should be looking out to make sure Bahamians are contacted first. Somehow, I do not think that the government … is being forceful enough to these investors from China, who are coming in and doing these projects.

“Our government should say to them that we have a ‘ready’ workforce and if we do not have a ready workforce, we have an immigration policy that is structured around being granted a work permit if you also partner with our local workforce to transfer that knowledge from training.

“That’s the premise of why you get a work permit.”

According to the BCA’s president, a work permit is conditional upon hiring Bahamians to work alongside the foreigner to transfer their knowledge and skills.

Expressing his total discontent with the process for granting construction work permits, Sands asserted that the BCA is “gravely concerned” that not enough of that transfer of knowledge is occurring to reinforce existing immigration policy.

“The citizenry has continued to complain and lament,” he said.

“We would like to see the enforcement of the existing policy that forces every skilled man that is brought in is paired with a Bahamian to train them. We need to see that happening more.”

Sands said that the construction industry is alarmed at the fact that the number one driver in the construction economy at the moment are the Chinese saying, “Bahamian English and Chinese don’t work too well.”

“We are just getting the miniscule dollars from these projects. No employment from the construction end and that has to change. It has to change now,” he indicated.

Sands said while one might think the BCA would be involved in the process of granting work permits, it is never aware of such work permits when they are granted.

“We don’t even have the opportunity to know when someone is coming into the country saying that they cannot find someone with this skill and they have to bring in somebody, when we ask the government to see the candidate,” he said.

“We would be able to advise the government that we know a Bahamian skilled and qualified for this particular job.  We do not have that symbiotic relationship where we can act as their partner and their advisor.

“Who is telling them (the government) who is qualified when they don’t know that information, but I do.”

A lack of vetting isn’t the only issue plaguing the industry, according to Sands.

He said many also see the field as a last resort for work if they are (or have) experienced challenges securing employment.

Eyewitness News Online spoke with a disheartened quantity surveyor, who preferred to remain anonymous.

“The majority of Bahamians have this thing in their head that construction is for people that are not intelligent; people who are just falling back on something to do when they can’t find anything else to do,” he said.

“For them it’s a default industry where if you failed at something else in life, you can just join the construction industry with minimal skills.  Hustling seems easy in construction because the industry is not regulated.”