The construction industry is arguably an engine for economic growth. One is left wondering if the sector is receiving due recognition as a key driver.
The national resource envelope seems to be skewed towards other industries such as manufacturing and tourism, while construction seems to be floating at the periphery trying to keep the head above the water, just enough to see another day.
At the moment, my left hand might have more fingers than the total number of active cranes and scaffolds in the capital. The macroeconomic environment has not helped the industry either.
However, even during the dollarisation period, there were no real mega-construction projects as was the case when the Joina City tower was built or at the time when the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe building was erected.
The only barricades one sees are for the construction of a fuel station by the roadside. The individuals are also constructing their own houses, albeit of varying sizes. Yes, that is construction, but on a smaller scale.
The unemployment rate has been staggering higher than expected. But has anyone ever imagined the amount of employment opportunities brought about by the construction sector? It is simply a sleeping giant, but definitely not a dead horse. There is a lot of potential that remains untamed momentarily.
It is not a secret that construction has a multiplier effect. The downstream industries that benefit directly or indirectly are so diverse that they can be stimuli to a lot of manufacturing industries.
The cement and brick suppliers are the immediate beneficiaries of the resurgence of the construction industry. The steel manufacturing industry also benefits as high rise buildings require reinforcement.
When the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (ZISCO) was still fully functional, the country had more than enough steel products to sustain any construction project and spare some for the export markets. The manufacturers of steel or aluminium products such as doorframes and window frames come to the fore. Roofing material suppliers come to the party as they supply trusses, tiles, and asbestos or corrugated iron sheets. The paint manufacturers cannot be outdone, they lick their lips as soon as the sleeping giant starts to awaken.
The new buildings will definitely require glazing, which implies more business for glass suppliers.
The list is endless, and all these sectors benefit from the resuscitation of the sleeping giant. There was a time when Government was running some building brigades. There are plenty of vocational training centres dotted across the country. Young people are being trained in diverse trades, such as bricklaying, carpentry and plumbing among a host of others.
Only a handful is absorbed in the labour market and the rest are frozen out.
There are plenty of professionals being churned out of institutions of higher learning like polytechnics and universities, for instance, engineers in their broader sense, planners, quantity surveyors, land surveyors and architects, among others. The majority of these critical skills end up sneaking out of the country in search of greener pastures at the expense of our own construction industry.
It is alleged that our economy is driven by the informal sector at the moment. Imagine the impact of the boom in the construction industry to Siyaso or Magaba where a lot of wares in the construction environment are sold.
These guys are very good at fabricating such materials as door frames and window frames and sale of steel products among others. There are a lot of spin-offs to be realised from this.
I cannot ascertain the actual quantum of the number of jobs the construction industry brings to the nation, but in the absence of statistics, a lot of jobs are created through the rise of the construction sector and its downstream industries.
This, therefore, increases the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). When people are in employment, their disposable income correspondingly increases. It means benefits will extend to the food, beverages and clothing industry.
Construction is not only about houses. The construction of commercial infrastructure such as shopping malls provides a lot of job opportunities to the professionals and the young people.
Construction of office space is another of the projects that create employment opportunities. There are too many buildings built in the years gone by and are due for demolition and reconstruction.
There is plenty of space above the current buildings to kick start construction projects. However, in as much as we wish to have a boom in the construction sector, are our suppliers ready to roar? We have had experiences with cement shortages in the country despite the assurances from the manufacturers that they have the potential or capacity to meet exponential demand.
The brick makers have been overwhelmed by the few people building their own houses, where some are given up to 30 days to collect their bricks. However, I am yet to hear about the shortage of steel products or glass. Therefore, are our building material suppliers ready?