Startup school helps to train Uganda’s oil, gas work­ers

China Daily European Weekly - - Business -

Sun­maker train­ing in­sti­tute boost­ing skill lev­els and bring­ing em­ploy­ers, job­seek­ers to­gether

The African na­tion has been ac­tively de­vel­op­ing its en­ergy sec­tor and in­fra­struc­ture con­struc­tion in re­cent years, as have other coun­tries on the con­ti­nent. Only 0.5 per­cent of Africa’s pop­u­la­tion are skilled work­ers, much lower than the 3 per­cent in China in the 1990s, when the sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try was sim­i­lar to that of Africa to­day.

“What we’re do­ing is try­ing to train more pro­fes­sional and cer­ti­fied work­ers,” says Lyu, Sun­maker’s CEO.

For years, vo­ca­tional train­ing schools in China have been en­cour­aged by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to open branches in Africa. How­ever, they have faced safety con­cerns, a lack of op­er­a­tion fees and em­ploy­ees, and in­ef­fi­cient com­mu­ni­ca­tion with lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

“It’s easy to open a school and in­vest a lot in fa­cil­i­ties in Africa, but no­body knows how to earn the money back. We’re the first Chi­nese in Africa to earn re­wards from in­vest­ment in vo­ca­tional train­ing,” Lyu says.

In­ter­na­tional en­ter­prises that in­vest in Uganda are re­quired to en­sure that lo­cals make up 70 per­cent of their work­force. How­ever, many in­ter­na­tional em­ploy­ers have found that such work­ers are not nec­es­sar­ily com­pe­tent, and train­ing them can be time-con­sum­ing. Sys­tem­atic train­ing be­fore em­ploy­ees be­gin work­ing is con­sid­ered by bosses to be ideal.

“It’s ridicu­lous that some com­pa­nies hire many lo­cals as safe­guards just to in­crease the lo­cal­iza­tion rate,” Lyu says. “We’re here to help the lo­cal work­ers ac­tu­ally work ef­fi­ciently us­ing pro­fes­sional skills and tech­niques.”

Sun­maker ex­pects Chi­nese com­pa­nies in Uganda in sec­tors such as oil, elec­tric­ity, con­struc­tion and agri­cul­ture will turn to the in­sti­tute to train their work­ers.

Lyu says the com­pany’s clients also in­clude aid or­ga­ni­za­tions based in Ger­many and Bel­gium, the United Na­tions, the World Bank, the In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment Co­op­er­a­tion Agency of China, and many other NGOs pro­vid­ing mul­ti­lat­eral or bi­lat­eral aid to Africa. These or­ga­ni­za­tions pay for lo­cal trainees to study at the in­sti­tute.

“Mul­ti­lat­eral or bi­lat­eral agen­cies choose us not only be­cause our price is more com­pet­i­tive than vo­ca­tional in­sti­tutes opened by Western­ers but also be­cause they value China’s de­vel­op­ment ex­pe­ri­ence over the past three decades,” he says.

The school, which opened a few months ago, stands 1.2 hectares of land in Kam­pala and has a 4-hectare oil­field, all of which was pro­vided by the Ugan­dan gov­ern­ment. Its class­rooms have aug­mented re­al­ity and vir­tual re­al­ity fa­cil­i­ties and have so far been used to train 1,000 skilled work­ers.

The cur­ricu­lum is sep­a­rated into two parts — the­ory and op­er­a­tion. Teach­ers are ex­pe­ri­enced and cer­ti­fied welders, plumbers or bench tech­ni­cians from China, Egypt and South Africa. Se­nior tech­ni­cians, en­gi­neers and man­agers from in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies are also in­vited to give lec­tures.

Sun­maker’s co-founders are cre­ative in many ways. To guar­an­tee suf­fi­cient teach­ers, the best grad­u­ates from Sun­maker with in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized cer­tifi­cates are al­lowed to stay and teach. The in­sti­tute also holds reg­u­lar tal­ent ex­change ac­tivi- ties by bring­ing hu­man re­source man­agers from Chi­nese com­pa­nies to­gether with African job­seek­ers. This al­lows the in­sti­tute to learn more about the em­ploy­ers, and job­seek­ers can learn more about the in­sti­tute.

“We’ve cho­sen a path that no Chi­nese has trav­eled in Africa,” Lyu says.

Sun­maker plans to open a school in La­gos, Nige­ria, next year, as well as four more across Africa. Lyu says his goal is to es­tab­lish 15 train­ing bases in 15 coun­tries in five years.

In ad­di­tion to com­pa­nies and in­ter­na­tional NGOs, the in­sti­tute’s doors are also open to any in­di­vid­u­als who want to pol­ish their vo­ca­tional skills and im­prove their job prospects.

For ex­am­ple, Lyu says, a welder paid 1,500 yuan a month ($215; 190 eu­ros; £167) could turn to Sun­maker to up­grade his or her skills. The tu­ition fee for two months of in­ten­sive train­ing is 6,000 yuan, but it can be paid af­ter they get a new job.

Af­ter com­plet­ing the train­ing, the welder re­ceives an in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized cer­tifi­cate and could earn 3,000 yuan a month. The school will then charge him or her 1,000 yuan a month un­til the tu­ition is paid off. This, says Lyu, is why Sun­maker at­tracts so many peo­ple who want to im­prove their lives.

“Hope­fully, we can at­tract many stu­dents through our pol­icy of ‘train­ing first, tu­ition se­cond’. Our goal is to train 10,000 skilled work­ers in each cen­ter each year, and 150,000 work­ers will be trained across Africa.

“In this way, we’re ac­tu­ally chang­ing the struc­ture of Africa’s hu­man re­sources. We’re chang­ing Africa.”

Com­pared with most Chi­nese vo­ca­tional train­ing in­sti­tutes, Sun­maker is priv­i­leged in two as­pects, ac­cord­ing to Lyu. “We’re good at com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the lo­cal gov­ern­ment. We can get pol­icy sup­port from the gov­ern­ment be­cause they’re con­vinced we can lift the qual­ity of peo­ple’s vo­ca­tional skills. The other ad­van­tage is we can sur­vive in the mar­ket and make a profit.

“We al­ways talk about build­ing a com­mu­nity of shared fu­ture for China and Africa,” Lyu adds. “It is not about how many roads you build in Africa, but about how much we un­der­stand that peo­ple in China and Africa have the same de­sire for a bet­ter life.”

As part of the ca­pac­ity build­ing ini­tia­tive launched at the Bei­jing sum­mit of the Fo­rum on China-Africa Co­op­er­a­tion in Septem­ber, China will set up 10 Luban work­shops in Africa to pro­vide vo­ca­tional train­ing.

Luban work­shops are named af­ter the fa­ther of Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­ture, who lived around the fourth cen­tury BC. The pro­gram is de­signed to of­fer tech­ni­cal and vo­ca­tional train­ing, pro­mote mod­ern vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion re­forms and en­hance col­lab­o­ra­tion among vo­ca­tional schools world­wide.

Lyu con­sid­ers this as a good op­por­tu­nity for Sun­maker to have deeper co­op­er­a­tion with Chi­nese vo­ca­tional schools de­ter­mined to go over­seas.

Ningbo Polytech­nic is among the Chi­nese in­sti­tutes that have been in­spired by Lyu and his col­leagues in Africa.

Cen Yong, a mem­ber of the Party com­mit­tee at Ningbo Polytech­nic, says: “I re­ally ad­mire the four young entrepreneurs in Africa. They’ re in­sight­ful, pas­sion­ate and am­bi­tious. … We ap­pre­ci­ate Sun­maker’s idea and the con­cept of their op­er­a­tions in Africa, and hope­fully we will have good co­op­er­a­tion in the near fu­ture.”

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