Construction and engineering firm Murray & Roberts invested more than R300 million in FY2013 in skills, enterprise and community development projects. This equates to nearly 1% of the Group’s turnover and almost a third of its profit after tax.

The bulk of this expenditure (R160 million) was directed at internal training and development, of which R110,3 million was invested in South African operations. Investment in the Group’s enterprise development initiatives totalled R143,4 million, while another R15 million was spent on community development projects.

“I don’t think there has ever been a more important time for the construction sector to demonstrate that it is committed to the growth and sustainability of the sector, especially when it comes to skills development and supporting smaller contractors,” says Henry Laas, Group Chief Executive, Murray & Roberts.

The more than R100 million skills development investment in local operations spans the entire organisation from leadership development programmes to artisan skills training, as well as engineering bursary schemes and secondary and tertiary education bursaries for employees and their families.

The strong South African focus is due to nearly three-quarters of Murray & Roberts’ 33 000 employees being based in southern Africa.

Laas believes that a successful, sustainable construction industry will allow companies to continue to invest in programmes that help to train and employ more people while still lending the necessary support to emerging contractors.

“This has been a difficult year for the sector, we have paid dearly for mistakes made in the past. That said, we will continue to support Government’s efforts to create jobs, stimulate small business and develop the kind of skills our country so desperately needs,” says Laas.

This is especially important given large-scale projects like the 18 Strategic Infrastructure Projects (“SIP”) envisaged for the country as part of the National Infrastructure Plan that will have a positive impact on skills development, economic growth and the creation of jobs.

“We need to invest in the right kind of skills development,” says Laas. “There are thousands of workers that are able to work on large-scale construction and engineering projects but we need to ensure that they are skilled in the right areas, that we create employment and that we are able to keep them employed.”

The company believes this requires a show of commitment from both the public and private sector clients, through their roles as catalysts of growth.

“While we know that we are more able to deliver on our mandate to train and employ when we are a sustainable industry, we also understand that right now, there is a need to invest in people and emerging contractors. This investment will ensure that when the growth comes, we are in a position, as a collective, to deliver greater employment opportunities for South African people,” says Laas.

“We also need the sector to commit to increasing its skills capacity so that the industry as a whole is able to compete throughout the rest of the continent and globally.”

This is a process that demands long-term commitment from industry players to invest in programmes that improve the skills base – both within and outside of their organisation – and that smaller contractors are given the support and opportunity to earn their place in the industry.