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What to do when you receive 60 identical applications?

Published on: 31-Jan-2015


                                                       Interview: Jan van Vulpen, General Manager, Remco Ruimtebouw BV

Remco Ruimtebouw specialises in designing, engineering, building and delivering steel industrial buildings for a wide range of industries. The company has been active since 1972 and expanded to the African continent in 2010, through Remco Afrique.

What makes Africa especially appealing to a construction company? 
The African construction industry is booming. At the same time, international investors and local elite compa - nies are increasingly demanding high quality and safety standards - standards that local companies are not yet able to meet. The scaffolding, for example, is traditionally made of bamboo. In contrast to its metallic equivalent, it is highly inflammable and usually not properly fixed to the ground. We only use metallic scaffolding and although local construction workers have high climbing skills, we insist on safety nets, helmets and protection jackets in order to effectively prevent fatal accidents.  

Many European companies in Africa are struggling to find competent, skilled workers. What has been your experience?
Our buildings are pre-engineered and pre-designed in the Netherlands, so the more complex work happens in Europe. Erecting the pre-manufactured buildings is not exactly rocket science. However, for one of our projects we were looking for local fitters to assist our Dutch supervisors in erecting the steel structure. After publishing the job openings we were suddenly faced with 60 almost identical applications, all with the same certificate from the same school and similar grades. Clearly, a coordinated action by a clever guy with a printer who supplied the locals with the necessary documents.


So what were we to do?
n the end, the solution was quite simple. We bought some wooden planks, screwdrivers and screws and announced that the first 30 candidates able to properly fix 20 screws into the wood, would be invited for an interview. Only 25 succeeded, knew in which direction to turn the screwdriver and presented the required output within reasonable time. Problem solved!

What have you learned from this experience?
Once our workers have gained the necessary skills, we aim to employ them for other projects as well and keep in contact. In addition, we make use of educated intermedi - ators that are not only familiar with the local culture and languages, but also with Dutch standards.

What advice would you give to people who are thinking about investing in Africa?
Be prepared for blood, sweat and tears. Returns can be very rewarding but developments tend to have their own pace and local people have their own habits and stand - ards that are not always aligned with ours. Make sure you enter the market with a large dose of humour and pa - tience in order to overcome the many obstacles that you will meet on your road to success.

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