The roadside work-seeker phenomenon in the South African informal construction sector

A key objective of post-apartheid South Africa has been the integration of previously disadvantaged persons into the economy. Human resource development strategies of increased access to education and skills development are supported by a package of enabling legislation. The construction sector via implementation of critical infrastructure and public works offered potential for employment and training of unskilled and semi-skilled labour. This research evaluates the extent to which this potential been realised, and identifies sustainable best-practice and impediments to progress. A mixed methods research methodology utilises: a textual analysis of strategy, skills development policy and legislation; statistical indicators of national and construction sector employment; semi-structured personal and telephonic interviews with workers and junior contractors; and online discussion with skills development practitioners. The findings confirm a comprehensive strategy for integrated and articulated post-school education and training, and extensive development of vocational training institutions. However, the qualification structure including knowledge, applied skills, and formal work experience does not meet the requirements of the sub-contractor junior construction industry players. The compilation of skills into formal qualifications follows occupational structures that don’t parallel real world requirements. There has been indifferent implementation of the recognition of prior learning, and extensive use of casualised labour and short term employment contracts impede implementation of skills development. The practical implications are that both national and immigrant workers continue to be excluded from acquisition of formal qualifications and career development, limiting the scope of their employment potential to temporary, short-term, informal contracts. The multi-disciplinary analysis contextualises these human resource management practices within the policy and legislative framework, and the contested economic model. The conclusion offers practical suggestions to improve the economic status of labour: recognising discrete skills independent of full qualifications, and adoption of bonus payments such as the fishing sector “agsterskot”.