A year ago, Sumo Sando had absolutely no skill in building construction, now he is a welder – a skill he's acquiring while working at the Roberts International Airport new terminal project.
China Harbour Engineering Company Limited (CHEC) hired Sando, 24, in February 2017 as an unskilled laborer. Since then, he continues to receive on-the-job trainings from the Chinese engineers.
“After this project I will be able to work on my own because of the skills I am acquiring and this will help me take care of my family,” said Sando, the father of two children.
CHEC was contracted by the Liberian government to build and expand the West African nation's main international airport located about 56 kilometer outside the capital, Monrovia.
It is a new airport terminal project funded by a US$50 million loan from the Export-Import Bank of China.
“We have experienced technicians, we provide high quality technology and show the Liberian workers how to use these advance equipment, and we also bring our management experience to the working group to help them adopt to high standard,” says David Chen, the CHEC's Liberia branch manager.
CHEC is a subsidiary of China Communication Construction Company Ltd. (CCCC), listed on the 2016 Fortune 500 list and one of the 250 largest international contractors.
he firm has its footprints in over 80 countries and has implemented hundreds of project worth over US$16 billion.
For the RIA Terminal project, the Chinese firm has hired over 200 Liberian workers; amongst them are unskilled laborers who are acquiring technical skills along the way since the project started in November 2016.
“When you work along with the Chinese they teach you how to learn a lot of new things and I think after this project I will learn a lot,” Sando said.
Nhene Giahbloh, who has worked for CHEC as a safety officer for over five years in Liberia and has received international training, is confident that the firm's work philosophy would motivate many local people to focus on learning technical skills before the project is complete.
“China Harbour has trained some of these local people who had no skills and now they are masons, welders, steel benders and electricians,” Giahbloh said.
“The Chinese opened up to these workers so that they can go home with skills at the end of the project and the communities around the project are benefiting immensely.”
Sheriff Brown, 34, was one of over 50 people hired 10 months ago from communities in Margibi County. He is now learning masonry on the job.
The former security guard says working with the Chinese engineers is helping him learn how to focus on the job.
“The Chinese engineers have a positive work attitude,” he said confidently.
“They are teaching me how to come to work early and remain focus on the job for the day, this is a very positive work attitude I am learning.”
Liberia has a massive youth population, which makes up 70 percent of the entire population with a youth dependency ratio of 77.6 percent.
Experts say the lack of skilled manpower often impedes the country's human resource capacity.
“Some times we're looking for skilled people but because the people here like to learn things, we give them the chance to learn from the experience Chinese engineers,” said Lin Mingzhen.
The 30-year old engineer from Guangdong Province in Southern China, who moved to Liberia in October 2016 to work on the airport project, says the Liberian workers are showing a lot of “learning spirit” on the project.
“I think it is very good, not only the project, but for building the capacity of the local people and it is a kind of a win-win relationship.”
“It does not only benefit the project but also the workers for the future,” he said.
Lin says the Liberians and Chinese workers continue to solidify their trust because of the common interest they share for the project and their respective countries.
“I think the longer we work together the better we know each other,” he said.
“For example, if we know exactly what a Liberian worker can do we help the person to become more efficient for the work to progress.”
The positive work attitude is paying-off for both the Liberian and Chinese workers as the project is expected to finish ahead of schedule.
According to the contract the terminal project should be finished by January 2019 but it might be completed by November this year base on the cooperation between the Chinese and Liberian workers, reveals the firm's country manager.
“When Chinese and Liberians work together they work very hard, and this has pushed the work far ahead,” Chan said.
“We continued to work during the rainy season and because the project adopts very high technology and as we work together it would help us complete the project ahead of schedule.”
It is the “team spirit”, according to the engineers, that is inspiring the progress of the project, which would boost Liberia's aviation and tourism sectors, as many international airlines would fly to Liberia and boost the country revenue generation.
And Lin says completing the project with high quality standard is important but also ensuring that the local workers are treated fairly is part of the philosophy of team spirit that the company believes.
“For me it's the win-win relationship that is keeping this project going smoothly,” he said.
“For our project perspective, we want to see local employees paid fairly and get some training at the same time.”